Phineas Redux, by Anthony Trollope

Chapter 4

Tankerville

The great Mr Molescroft himself came over to Tankerville for the purpose of introducing our hero to the electors and to Mr Ruddles, the local Liberal agent, who was to be employed. They met at the Lambton Arms, and there Phineas established himself, knowing well that he had before him ten days of unmitigated vexation and misery. Tankerville was a dirty, prosperous, ungainly town, which seemed to exude coal-dust or coal-mud at every pore. It was so well recognised as being dirty that people did not expect to meet each other with clean hands and faces. Linen was never white at Tankerville, and even ladies who sat in drawing-rooms were accustomed to the feel and taste and appearance of soot in all their daintiest recesses. We hear that at Oil City the flavour of petroleum is hardly considered to be disagreeable, and so it was with the flavour of coal at Tankerville. And we know that at Oil City the flavour of petroleum must not be openly declared to be objectionable, and so it was with coal at Tankerville. At Tankerville coal was much loved, and was not thought to be dirty. Mr Ruddles was very much begrimed himself, and some of the leading Liberal electors, upon whom Phineas Finn had already called, seemed to be saturated with the product of the district. It would not, however, in any event be his duty to live at Tankerville, and he had believed from the first moment of his entrance into the town that he would soon depart from it, and know it no more. He felt that the chance of his being elected was quite a forlorn hope, and could hardly understand why he had allowed himself to be embarrassed by so very unprofitable a speculation.

Phineas Finn had thrice before this been chosen to sit in Parliament — twice for the Irish borough of Loughshane, and once for the English borough of Loughton; but he had been so happy as hitherto to have known nothing of the miseries and occasional hopelessness of a contested election. At Loughton he had come forward as the nominee of the Earl of Brentford, and had been returned without any chance of failure by that nobleman’s influence. At Loughshane things had nearly been as pleasant with him. He had almost been taught to think that nothing could be easier than getting into Parliament if only a man could live when he was there. But Loughton and Loughshane were gone, with so many other comfortable things of old days, and now he found himself relegated to a borough to which, as it seemed to him, he was sent to fight, not that he might win, but because it was necessary to his party that the seat should not be allowed to be lost without fighting. He had had the pleasant things of parliamentary adventure, and now must undergo those which were unpleasant. No doubt he could have refused, but he had listened to the tempter, and could not now go back, though Mr Ruddles was hardly more encouraging than Mr Molescroft.

“Browborough has been at work for the last three days,” said Mr Ruddles, in a tone of reproach. Mr Ruddles had always thought that no amount of work could be too heavy for his candidates.

“Will that make much difference?” asked Mr Molescroft.

“Well, it does. Of course, he has been among the colliers — when we ought to have been before him.”

“I came when I was told,” said Phineas.

“I’d have telegraphed to you if I’d known where you were. But there’s no help for spilt milk. We must get to work now — that’s all. I suppose you’re for disestablishing the Church?”

“Not particularly,” said Phineas, who felt that with him, as a Roman Catholic, this was a delicate subject.

“We needn’t go into that, need we?” said Mr Molescroft, who, though a Liberal, was a good Churchman.

Mr Ruddles was a Dissenter, but the very strong opinion which Mr Ruddles now expressed as to the necessity that the new candidate should take up the Church question did not spring at all from his own religious convictions. His present duty called upon him to have a Liberal candidate if possible returned for the borough with which he was connected, and not to disseminate the doctrines of his own sect. Nevertheless, his opinion was very strong. “I think we must, Mr Molescroft,” said he; “I’m sure we must. Browborough has taken up the other side. He went to church last Sunday with the Mayor and two of the Aldermen, and I’m told he said all the responses louder than anybody else. He dined with the Vicar of Trinity on Monday, He has been very loud in denouncing Mr Finn as a Roman Catholic, and has declared that everything will be up with the State if Tankerville returns a friend and supporter of the Pope. You’ll find that the Church will be the cry here this election. You can’t get anything by supporting it, but you may make a strong party by pledging yourself to disendowment.”

“Wouldn’t local taxation do?” asked Mr Molescroft, who indeed preferred almost any other reform to disendowment.

“I have made up my mind that we must have some check on municipal expenditure,” said Phineas.

“It won’t do — not alone. If I understand the borough, the feeling at this election will altogether be about the Church. You see, Mr Finn, your being a Roman Catholic gives them a handle, and they’re already beginning to use it. They don’t like Roman Catholics here; but if you can manage to give it a sort of Liberal turn — as many of your constituents used to do, you know — as though you disliked Church and State rather than cared for the Pope, may be it might act on our side rather than on theirs. Mr Molescroft understands it all.”

“Oh, yes; I understand.”

Mr Ruddles said a great deal more to the same effect, and though Mr Molescroft did not express any acquiescence in these views, neither did he dissent. The candidate said but little at this interview, but turned the matter over in his mind. A seat in Parliament would be but a barren honour, and he could not afford to offer his services for barren honour. Honest political work he was anxious to do, but for what work he did he desired to be paid. The party to which he belonged had, as he knew, endeavoured to avoid the subject of the disendowment of the Church of England. It is the necessary nature of a political party in this country to avoid, as long as it can be avoided, the consideration of any question which involves a great change. There is a consciousness on the minds of leading politicians that the pressure from behind, forcing upon them great measures, drives them almost quicker than they can go, so that it becomes a necessity with them to resist rather than to aid the pressure which will certainly be at last effective by its own strength. The best carriage horses are those which can most steadily hold back against the coach as it trundles down the hill. All this Phineas knew, and was of opinion that the Barrington Erles and Ratlers of his party would not thank him for ventilating a measure which, however certain might be its coming, might well be postponed for a few years. Once already in his career he had chosen to be in advance of his party, and the consequences had been disastrous to him. On that occasion his feelings had been strong in regard to the measure upon which he broke away from his party; but, when he first thought of it, he did not care much about Church disendowment.

But he found that he must needs go as he was driven or else depart out of the place. He wrote a line to his friend Erle, not to ask advice, but to explain the circumstances. “My only possible chance of success will lie in attacking the Church endowments. Of course I think they are bad, and of course I think that they must go. But I have never cared for the matter, and would have been very willing to leave it among those things which will arrange themselves. But I have no choice here.” And so he prepared himself to run his race on the course arranged for him by Mr Ruddles. Mr Molescroft, whose hours were precious, soon took his leave, and Phineas Finn was placarded about the town as the sworn foe to all Church endowments.

In the course of his canvass, and the commotions consequent upon it, he found that Mr Ruddles was right. No other subject seemed at the moment to have any attraction in Tankerville. Mr Browborough, whose life had not been passed in any strict obedience to the Ten Commandments, and whose religious observances had not hitherto interfered with either the pleasures or the duties of his life, repeated at every meeting which he attended, and almost to every elector whom he canvassed, the great Shibboleth which he had now adopted — “The prosperity of England depends on the Church of her people.” He was not an orator. Indeed, it might be hard to find a man, who had for years been conversant with public life, less able to string a few words together for immediate use. Nor could he learn half-a-dozen sentences by rote. But he could stand up with unabashed brow and repeat with enduring audacity the same words a dozen times over — “The prosperity of England depends on the Church of her people.” Had he been asked whether the prosperity which he promised was temporal or spiritual in its nature, not only could he not have answered, but he would not in the least have understood the question. But the words as they came from his mouth had a weight which seemed to ensure their truth, and many men in Tankerville thought that Mr Browborough was eloquent.

Phineas, on the other hand, made two or three great speeches every evening, and astonished even Mr Ruddles by his oratory. He had accepted Mr Ruddles’s proposition with but lukewarm acquiescence, but in the handling of the matter he became zealous, fiery, and enthusiastic. He explained to his hearers with gracious acknowledgment that Church endowments had undoubtedly been most beneficent in past times. He spoke in the interests of no special creed. Whether in the so-called Popish days of Henry VIII and his ancestors, or in the so-called Protestant days that had followed, the state of society had required that spiritual teaching should be supplied from funds fixed and devoted to the purpose. The increasing intelligence and population of the country made this no longer desirable — or, if desirable, no longer possible. Could these endowments be increased to meet the needs of the increasing millions? Was it not the fact that even among members of the Church of England they were altogether inefficient to supply the wants of our great towns? Did the people of Tankerville believe that the clergymen of London, of Liverpool, and of Manchester were paid by endowments? The arguments which had been efficacious in Ireland must be efficacious in England. He said this without reference to one creed or to another. He did believe in religious teaching. He had not a word to say against a Protestant Episcopal Church. But he thought, nay he was sure, that Church and State, as combined institutions, could no longer prevail in this country. If the people of Tankerville would return him to Parliament it should be his first object to put an end to this anomaly.

The Browboroughites were considerably astonished by his success. The colliers on this occasion did not seem to regard the clamour that was raised against Irish Papists. Much dirt was thrown and some heads were broken; but Phineas persevered. Mr Ruddles was lost in admiration. They had never before had at Tankerville a man who could talk so well. Mr Browborough without ceasing repeated his well-worn assurance, and it was received with the loudest exclamations of delight by his own party. The clergymen of the town and neighbourhood crowded round him and pursued him, and almost seemed to believe in him. They were at any rate fighting their battle as best they knew how to fight it. But the great body of the colliers listened to Phineas, and every collier was now a voter. Then Mr Ruddles, who had many eyes, began to perceive that the old game was to be played. “There’ll be money going tomorrow after all,” he whispered to Finn the evening before the election.

“I suppose you expected that.”

“I wasn’t sure. They began by thinking they could do without it. They don’t want to sacrifice the borough.”

“Nor do I, Mr Ruddles.”

“But they’ll sooner do that than lose the seat. A couple of dozen of men out of the Fallgate would make us safe.” Mr Ruddles smiled as he said this.

And Phineas smiled as he answered, “If any good can be done by talking to the men at the Fallgate, I’ll talk to them by the hour together.”

“We’ve about done all that,” said Mr Ruddles.

Then came the voting. Up to two o’clock the polling was so equal that the numbers at Mr Browborough’s committee room were always given in his favour, and those at the Liberal room in favour of Phineas Finn. At three o’clock Phineas was acknowledged to be ten ahead. He himself was surprised at his own success, and declared to himself that his old luck had not deserted him.

“They’re giving oe2.10s. a vote at the Fallgate this minute,” said Ruddles to him at a quarter-past three.

“We shall have to prove it.”

“We can do that, I think,” said Ruddles.

At four o’clock, when the poll was over, Browborough was declared to have won on the post by seven votes. He was that same evening declared by the Mayor to have been elected sitting member for the borough, and he again assured the people in his speech that the prosperity of England depends on the Church of her people.

“We shall carry the seat on a scrutiny as sure as eggs,” said Mr Ruddles, who had been quite won by the gallant way in which Phineas had fought his battle.

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