The Prime Minister, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 8

The Beginning of a New Career.

By the time that the Easter holidays were over — holidays which had been used so conveniently for the making of a new government, — the work of getting a team together had been accomplished by the united energy of the two dukes and other friends. The filling up of the great places had been by no means so difficult or so tedious — nor indeed the cause of half so many heartburns, — as the completion of the list of subordinates. Noblesse oblige. The Secretaries of State, and the Chancellors, and the First Lords, selected from this or the other party felt that the eyes of mankind were upon them, and that it behoved them to assume a virtue if they had it not. They were habitually indifferent to self-exaltation, and allowed themselves to be thrust into this or that unfitting role, professing that the Queen’s Government and the good of the country were their only considerations. Lord Thrift made way for Sir Orlando Drought at the Admiralty, because it was felt on all sides that Sir Orlando could not join the new composite party without a high place. And the same grace was shown in regard to Lord Drummond, who remained at the Colonies, keeping the office to which he had lately been transferred under Mr Daubney. And Sir Gregory Grogram said not a word, whatever he may have thought, when he was told that Mr Daubney’s Lord Chancellor, Lord Ramsden, was to keep the seals. Sir Gregory did, no doubt, think very much about it, for legal offices have a signification differing much from that which attaches itself to places simply political. A Lord Chancellor becomes a peer, and on going out of office enjoys a large pension. When the woolsack has been reached there comes an end of doubt, and a beginning of ease. Sir Gregory was not a young man, and this was a terrible blow. But he bore it manfully, saying not a word when the Duke spoke to him; but he became convinced from that moment that no more inefficient lawyer ever sat upon the English bench, or a more presumptuous politician in the British Parliament, than Lord Ramsden.

The real struggle, however, lay in the appropriate distribution of the Rattlers, the Robys, the Fitzgibbons, and the Macphersons among the subordinate offices of State. Mr Macpherson and Mr Roby, with a host of others who had belonged to Mr Daubney, were prepared, as they declared from the first, to lend their assistance to the Duke. They had consulted Mr Daubney on the subject, and Mr Daubney told them that their duty lay in that direction. At the first blush of the matter the arrangement took the form of a gracious tender from themselves to a statesman called upon to act in very difficult circumstances — and they were thanked accordingly by the Duke, with something of real cordial gratitude. But when the actual adjustment of things was in hand, the Duke, having but little power of assuming a soft countenance and using soft words while his heart was bitter, felt on more than one occasion inclined to withdraw his thanks. He was astounded not so much by the pretensions as by the unblushing assertion of these pretensions in reference to places which he had been innocent enough to think were always bestowed at any rate without direct application. He had measured himself rightly when he told the older Duke in one of those anxious conversations which had been held before the attempt was made, that long as he had been in office himself he did not know what was the way of bestowing office. ‘Two gentlemen have been here this morning,’ he said one day to the Duke of St Bungay, ‘one on the heels of the other, each assuring me not only that the whole stability of the enterprise depends on my giving a certain office to him — but actually telling me to my face that I had promised it to him!’ The old statesman laughed. ‘To be told within the same half-hour by two men that I had made promises to each of them inconsistent with each other.’

‘Who were the two men?’

‘Mr Rattler and Mr Roby.’

‘I am assured that they are inseparable since the work has begun. They always had a leaning to each other, and now I hear they pass their time between the steps of the Carlton and Reform Clubs.’

‘But what am I to do? One must be Patronage Secretary, no doubt.’

‘They’re both good men in their way, you know.’

‘But why do they come to me with their mouths open, like dogs craving a bone? It used not to be so. Of course men were always anxious for office as they are now.’

‘Well; yes. We’ve heard of that before today, I think.’

‘But I don’t think any man ever ventured to ask Mr Mildmay.’

‘Time has done much for him in consolidating his authority, and perhaps the present world is less reticent in its eagerness than it was in his younger days. I doubt, however, whether it is more dishonest, and whether struggles were not made quite as disgraceful to the strugglers as anything that is done now. You can’t alter the men, and you must use them.’ The younger Duke sat down and sighed over the degenerate patriotism of the age.

But at last even the Rattlers and Robys were fixed, if not satisfied, and a complete list of the ministry appeared in all the newspapers. Though the thing had been long a-doing, still it had come suddenly — so that the first proposition to form a coalition ministry, the newspapers had hardly known whether to assist or to oppose the scheme. There was no doubt, in the minds of all these editors and contributors, the teaching of a tradition that coalitions of this kind have been generally feeble, sometimes disastrous, and on occasions, even disgraceful. When a man, perhaps through a long political life, has bound himself to a certain code of opinions, how can he change that code at a moment? And when at the same moment, together with the change, he secures power, patronage, and pay, how shall the public voice absolve him? But then again, men, who have by the work of their lives grown into a certain position in the country, and have unconsciously but not therefore less actually made themselves indispensable either to this side of politics, or to that, cannot free themselves altogether from the responsibility of managing them when a period comes such as that now reached. This also the newspapers perceived, and having, since the commencement of the session been very loud in exposing the disgraceful collapse of government affairs, could hardly refuse their support to any attempt at a feasible arrangement. When it was first known that the Duke of Omnium had consented to make the attempt, they had both on one side and the other been loud in his praise, going so far as to say that he was the only man in England who could do the work. It was probably this encouragement which had enabled the new Premier to go on with an undertaking which was personally distasteful to him, and for which from day to day he believed himself to be less and less fit. But when the newspapers told him that he was the only man for the occasion, how could he be justified in crediting himself in preference to them?

The work in Parliament began under the new auspices with great tranquillity. That there would soon come causes of hot blood — the English Church, the county suffrage, the income tax, and further education questions — all men knew who knew anything. But for the moment, for the months even, perhaps for the session, there was to be peace, with full latitude for the performance of routine duties. There was so to say no opposition, and at first it seemed that one special bench in the House of Commons would remain unoccupied. But after a day or two — on one which Mr Daubney had been seen sitting just below the gangway — that gentleman returned to the place usually held by the Prime Minister’s rival, saying with a smile that it might be for the convenience of the House that the seat should be utilized. Mr Gresham, at this time, had with declared purpose, asked and obtained the Speaker’s leave of absence, and was abroad. Who should lead the House? That had been a great question, caused by the fact that the Prime Minister was in the House of Lords; — and what office should the leader hold? Mr Monk had consented to take the Exchequer, but the right to sit opposite to the Treasure Box and to consider himself for the time the principal spirit in that chamber was at last assigned to Sir Orlando Drought. ‘It will never do,’ said Mr Rattler to Mr Roby. ‘I don’t mean to say anything against Drought, who had always been a very useful man to your party; — but he lacks something of the position.’

‘The fact is,’ said Roby, ‘that we’ve trusted to two men so long that we don’t know how to suppose anyone else big enough to fill their places. Monk wouldn’t have done. The House doesn’t care about Monk.’

‘I always thought it should have been Wilson, and so I told the Duke. He had an idea that it should be one of your men.’

‘I think he’s right there,’ said Roby. ‘There ought to be something like a fair division. Individuals might be content, but the party would be dissatisfied. For myself, I’d have sooner stayed out as an independent member, but Daubney said that he thought I was bound to make myself useful.’

‘I told the Duke from the beginning,’ said Rattler, ‘that I didn’t think that I could be of any service to him. Of course, I would support him, but I had been too thoroughly a party man for a new movement of this kind. But he said just the same? — that he considered I was bound to join him. I asked Gresham, and when Gresham said so too, of course I had no help for it.’

Neither of these excellent public servants had told a lie in this. Some such conversations as those reported had passed; — but a man doesn’t lie when he exaggerates an emphasis, or even when he gives by a tone a meaning to a man’s words exactly opposite to that which another tone would convey. Or, if he does lie in doing so, he does not know that he lies. Mr Rattler had gone back to his old office at the Treasury and Mr Roby had been forced to content himself with the Secretaryship at the Admiralty. But, as the old Duke had said, they were close friends, and prepared to fight together any battle which might keep them in the present position.

Many of the cares of office the Prime Minister did succeed in shuffling off altogether on to the shoulders of his elder friend. He would not concern himself with the appointment of ladies, about whom he said he knew nothing, and as to whose fitness and claims he professed himself to be as ignorant as the office messenger. The offers were of course made in the usual form, as though coming direct from the Queen, through the Prime Minister; — but the selections were in truth effected by the old Duke in council with — an illustrious personage. The matter affected our Duke — only in so far as he could get out of his mind that strange application from his own wife. ‘That she should have even dreamed of it!’ he would say to himself, not yet having acquired sufficient experience of his fellow creatures to be aware how wonderfully temptations will affect even those who appear to be least subject to them. The town horse, used to gaudy trappings, no doubt despises the work of his country brother; but yet, now and again, there comes upon him a sudden desire to plough. The desire for ploughing had come upon the Duchess, but the Duke could not understand it.

He perceived, however, in spite of the multiplicity of his official work, that his refusal sat heavily on his wife’s breast, and that, though she spoke no further word, she brooded over her injury. And his heart was sad within him when he thought he had vexed her — loving her as he did with all his heart, but with a heart that was never demonstrative. When she was unhappy he was miserable, though he would hardly know the cause of his misery. Her ridicule and raillery he could bear, though they stung him; but her sorrow, if ever she were sorrowful, or her sullenness, if ever she were sullen, upset him altogether. He was in truth so soft of heart that he could not bear the discomfort of the one person in the world who seemed to him to be near to him. He had expressly asked her for her sympathy for the business he had on hand — thereby going much beyond his usual coldness of manner. She, with an eagerness which might have been expected from her, had promised that she would slave for him, if slavery were necessary. Then she had made her request, had been refused, and was now moody. ‘The Duchess of ——— is to be Mistress of The Robes,’ he said to her one day. He had gone to her, up to her own room, before he dressed for dinner, having devoted much more time that as Prime Minister he ought to have done to a resolution that he would make things straight with her, and to the best way of doing it.

‘So I am told. She ought to know her away about the place, as I remember she was at the same work when I was a girl of eleven.’

‘That’s not so very long ago, Cora.’

‘Silverbridge is older now than I was then, and I think that makes it a very long time ago.’ Lord Silverbridge was the Duke’s eldest son.

‘But what does it matter? If she began her career at the time of George the Fourth, what is it to you?’

‘Nothing on earth — only that she did in truth begin her career in the time of George the Third. I’m sure she’s nearer sixty than fifty.’

‘I’m glad to see you remember your dates so well.’

‘It’s a pity she should not remember hers in the ways she dresses,’ said the Duchess.

This was marvellous to him — that his wife, who as Lady Glencora Palliser had been so conspicuous for a wild disregard of social rules as to be looked upon by many as an enemy of her own class, should be so depressed by not being allowed to be the Queen’s head servant as to descend to personal invective! ‘I’m afraid,’ said he, attempting to smile, ‘that it won’t come within the compass of my office to effect or even to propose any radical change in her Grace’s apparel. But don’t you think that you and I can afford to ignore all that?’

‘I can certainly. She may be an antiquated Eve for me.’

‘I hope, Cora, you are not still disappointed because I did not agree with you when you spoke about the place for yourself.’

‘Not because you did not agree with me — but because you did not think me fit to be trusted with any judgement of my own. I don’t know why I’m always to be looked upon as different from other women — as though I were half a savage.’

‘You are what you made yourself, and I have always rejoiced that you are as you are, fresh, untrammelled, without many prejudices which afflict other ladies, and free from bonds by which they are cramped and confined. Of course such a turn of character is subject to certain dangers of its own.’

‘There is no doubt about the dangers. The chances are that when I see her Grace, I shall tell her what I think about her.’

‘You will I am sure say nothing unkind to a lady who is supposed to be in the place she now fills by my authority. But do not let us quarrel about an old woman.’

‘I won’t quarrel with you even about a young one.’

‘I cannot be at ease within myself while I think you are resenting my refusal. You do not know how constantly I carry you about with me.’

‘You carry a very unnecessary burden then,’ she said. But he could tell at once from the altered tone of voice, and from the light of her eye as he glanced into her face, that her anger about ‘The Robes’ was appeased.

‘I have done as you have asked about a friend of yours,’ he said. This occurred just before the final and perfected list of the new men had appeared in all the newspapers.

‘What friend?’

‘Mr Finn is to go to Ireland.’

‘Go to Ireland! — How do you mean?’

‘It is looked upon as being a very great promotion. Indeed, I am told that he is considered to be the luckiest man in all the scramble.’

‘You don’t mean as Chief Secretary?’

‘Yes, I do. He certainly couldn’t go as Lord Lieutenant.’

‘But they said that Barrington Erle was going to Ireland.’

‘Well; yes. I don’t know that you’d be interested by all the ins and outs of it. But Mr Erle declined. It seems that Mr Erle is after all the one man in Parliament modest enough not to consider himself to be fit for any place that can be offered to him.’

‘Poor Barrington! He does not like the idea of crossing the Channel so often. I quite sympathize with him. And so Phineas is to be Secretary for Ireland! Not in the Cabinet?’

‘No. — not in the Cabinet. It is not by any means usual that he should be.’

‘That is promotion, and I’m glad! Poor Phineas! I hope they won’t murder him, or anything of that kind. They do murder people, you know, sometimes.’

‘He’s an Irishman himself.’

‘That just the reason why they should. He must pass up with that of course. I wonder whether she’ll like going. They’ll be able to spend money, which they always like, over there. He comes backwards and forwards every week — doesn’t he?’

‘Not quite that, I believe.’

‘I shall miss her, if she has to stay away so long. I know you don’t like her.’

‘I do like her. She has always behaved well, both to me and to my uncle.’

‘She was an angel to him — and to you too, if you only knew it. I dare say you’re sending him to Ireland so as to get her away from me.’ This she said with a smile, as though not meaning it altogether, but yet half meaning it.

‘I have asked him to undertake the office,’ said the Duke solemnly, ‘because I am told he is fit for it. But I did have some pleasure in proposing it to him because I thought it would please you.’

‘It does please me, and I won’t be cross any more, and the Duchess of — may wear her clothes just as she pleases, or go without them. And as for Mrs Finn, I don’t see why she should be with him always when he goes. You can quite understand how necessary she is to me. But she is in truth the only woman in London to whom I can say what I think. And it is a comfort, you know, to have someone.’

In this way the domestic peace of the Prime Minister was readjusted, and that sympathy and co-operation for which he had first asked was accorded to him. It may be a question whether on the whole the Duchess did not work harder than he did. She did not at first dare to expound to him those grand ideas which she had conceived in regard to magnificence and hospitality. She said nothing of any extraordinary expenditure of money. But she set herself to work after her own fashion, making to him suggestions as to dinners and evening receptions, to which he objected only on the score of time. ‘You must eat your dinner somewhere,’ she said, ‘and you need only come in just before we sit down, and go into your room if you please without coming upstairs at all. I can at any rate do that part of it for you.’ And she did do that part of it with marvellous energy all through the month of May — so that by the end of the month, within six weeks of the time at which she first heard of the Coalition Ministry, all the world had begun to talk of the Prime Minister’s dinners, and of the receptions given by the Prime Minister’s wife.

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