Frank Tregear had come up to town at the end of February. He remained in London, with an understanding that he was not to see Lady Mary again till the Easter holidays. He was then to pay a visit to Matching, and to enter it, it may be presumed, on the full fruition of his advantages as accepted suitor. All this had been arranged with a good deal of precision — as though there had still been a hope left that Lady Mary might change her mind. Of course there was no such hope. When the Duke asked the young man to dine with him, when he invited him to drink that memorable glass of wine, when the young man was allowed, in the presence of the Boncassens, to sit next to Lady Mary, it was of course settled. But the father probably found some relief in yielding by slow degrees. ‘I would rather that there should be no correspondence till then,’ he said both to Tregear and to his daughter. And they had promised there should be no correspondence. At Easter they would meet. After Easter Mary was to come up to London to be present at her brother’s wedding, to which also Tregear had been formally invited; and it was hoped that then something might be settled as to their own marriage. Tregear, with the surgeon’s permission, took his seat in Parliament. He was introduced by two leading Members on the conservative side, but immediately afterwards found himself seated next to his friend Silverbridge on the top bench behind the ministers. The House was very full, as there was a feverish report abroad that Sir Timothy Beeswax intended to make a statement. No one quite knew what the statement was to be; but every politician in the House and out of it thought that he knew that the statement would be a bid for higher power on the part of Sir Timothy himself. If there had been dissensions in the Cabinet, the secret of them had been well kept. To Tregear who was not as yet familiar with the House there was no special appearance of activity; but Silverbridge could see that there was more than wonted animation. That the Treasury bench should be full at this time was a thing of custom. A whole broadside of questions would be fired off, one after another, like a rattle of musketry down the ranks, when as nearly as possible the report of each gun is made to follow close upon that of the gun before — with this exception, that in such case each little sound is intended to be as like as possible to the preceding, whereas with the rattle of the questions and answers, each question and each answer becomes a little more authoritative and less courteous than the last. The Treasury bench was ready for its usual responsive firing, as the questioners were of course in their places. The opposition front bench was also crowded, and those behind were nearly equally full. There were many Peers in the gallery, and a general feeling of sensation prevailed. All this Silverbridge had been long enough in the House to appreciate; — but to Tregear the House was simply the House.
‘It’s odd enough we should have a row the very first day you come,’ said Silverbridge.
‘You think there will be a row?’
‘Beeswax has something special to say. He’s not here yet you see. They’ve left about six inches for him between Roper and Sir Orlando. You’ll have the privilege of looking just down on the top of his head when he does come. I shan’t stay much longer after that.’
‘Where are you going?’
‘I don’t mean today. But I should not have been here now — in this very place I mean — but I want to stick to you just at first. I shall move down below the gangway; and not improbably creep over to the other side before long.’
‘You don’t mean it?’
‘I think I shall. I begin to feel I’ve made a mistake.’
‘In coming to this side at all?’
‘I think I have. After all it is not very important.’
‘What is not important? I think it is very important.’
‘Perhaps it may be to you, and perhaps you may be able to keep it up. But the more I think of it the less excuse I seem to have for deserting the old ways of the family. What is there in those fellows down there to make a fellow feel that he ought to bind himself to them neck and heels?’
‘Yes, their principles! I believe I have some vague idea as to supporting property and land and all that kind of thing. I don’t know that anybody wants to attack anything.’
‘Somebody soon would want to attack if there no defenders.’
‘I suppose there is an outside power — the people, or public opinion, or whatever they choose to call it. And the country will have to go very much as that outside power chooses. Here, in Parliament, everybody will be as conservative as the outside will let them. I don’t think it matters on which side you sit; — but it does matter that you shouldn’t have to act with those who go against the grain with you.’
‘I never heard worse political arguments in my life.’
‘I daresay not. However, there’s Sir Timothy. When he looks in that way, all buckram, deportment, and solemnity, I know he’s going to pitch into somebody.’
At this moment the Leader of the House came in from behind the Speaker’s chair and took his place between Mr Roper and Sir Orlando Drought. When a man has to declare a solemn purpose on a solemn occasion in a solemn place, it is needful that he should be solemn himself. And though the solemnity which befits a man best will be that which the importance of the moment may produce, without thought given by himself to his own outward person, still, who is there can refrain himself from some attempt? Who can boast, who that has been versed in the ways and duties of high places, that he has kept himself free from all study of grace, of feature, or attitude, of gait — or even of dress? For most of our bishops, for most of our judges, or our statesmen, our orators, our generals, for many even of our doctors and our parsons, even our attorneys, our taxgatherers, and certainly our butlers and our coachmen. Mr Turveydrop, the great professor of deportment, has done much. But there should always be the art to underlie and protect the art; — the art that can hide the art. The really clever archbishop — the really potent chief justice, the man, who as a politician, will succeed in becoming a king of men, should know how to carry his buckram without showing it. It was in this that Sir Timothy perhaps failed a little. There are men who look as though they were born to wear blue ribbons. It has come, probably, from study, but it seems to be natural. Sir Timothy did not impose on those who looked at him as do these men. You see a little of the paint, you could hear the crumple of the starch and the padding; you could trace something of the uneasiness in the would-be composed grandeur of the brow. ‘Turveydrop!’ the spectator would say to himself. But after all it may be a question whether a man be open to reproach for not doing that well which the greatest among us — if we could find one great enough — would not do at all.
For I think we must hold that true personal dignity should be achieved — must, if it is to be quite true, have been achieved — without any personal effort. Though it be evinced, in part, by the carriage of the body, that carriage should be the fruit of the operation of the mind. Even when it be assisted by external garniture such as special clothes, and wigs, and ornaments, such garniture should be prescribed by the sovereign or by custom, and should not have been selected by the wearer. In regard to speech a man may study all that which may make him suasive, but if he go beyond that he will trench on those histrionic efforts, which he will know to be wrong because he will be ashamed to acknowledge them. It is good to be beautiful, but it should come of God and not of the hairdresser. And personal dignity is a great possession; but a man should struggle for it no more than he would for beauty. Many, however, do struggle for it, and with such success that, though they do not achieve quite the real thing, still they get something on which they can bolster themselves up and be mighty.
Others, older men than Silverbridge, saw as much as did our young friends, but they were more complaisant and more reasonable. They, too, heard the crackle of the buckram, and were aware that the last touch of awe had come upon that brow just as its owner was emerging from the shadow of the Speaker’s chair; — but to them it was a thing of course. A real Csar is not to be found every day, nor can we always have a Pitt to control our debates. That kind of thing, that last touch has its effect. Of course it is all paint — but how would the poor girl look before the gaslights if there were no paint? The House of Commons likes a little deportment on occasions. If a special man looks bigger than you, you can console yourself by reflecting that he also looks bigger than your fellows. Sir Timothy probably knew what he was about, and did himself on the whole more good than harm by his little tricks.
As soon as Sir Timothy had taken his seat, Mr Rattler got up from the opposition bench to ask him some questions on a matter of finance. The brewers were anxious about publican licences. Could the Chancellor of the Exchequer say a word on the matter? Notice had of course been given, and the questioner had stated a quarter of an hour previously that he would postpone his query till the Chancellor of the Exchequer was in the House.
Sir Timothy rose from his seat, and in his blandest manner began by apologising for his late appearance. He was sorry that he had been prevented by public business from being in place to answer the honourable gentleman’s question in proper turn. And even now, he feared, that he must decline to give any answer which could be supposed to be satisfactory. It would probably be his duty to make a statement to the House on the following day — a statement which he was not quite prepared to make at the present moment. But in the existing state of things he was unwilling to make any reply to any question by which he might seem to bind the government to any opinion. Then he sat down. And rising again not long afterwards, when the House had gone through certain formal duties, he moved that it should be adjourned till the next day. Then all the members trooped out, and with the others Tregear and Lord Silverbridge. ‘So that is the end our your first day in Parliament,’ said Silverbridge.
‘What does it all mean?’
‘Let us go down to the Carlton and hear what the fellows are saying.’
On that evening both the young men dined at Mr Boncassen’s house. Though Tregear had been cautioned not to write to Lady Mary, and though he was not to see her before Easter, still it was so completely understood that he was about to become her husband, that he was entertained in that capacity by all those who were concerned in the family. ‘And so they will all go out,’ said Mr Boncassen.
‘That seems to be the general idea,’ said the expectant son-in-law. ‘When two men want to be first and neither will give way, they can’t very well get on in the same boat together.’ Then he expatiated angrily on the treachery of Sir Timothy, and Tregear in a more moderate way joined in the same opinion.
‘Upon my word, young men, I doubt whether you are right,’ said Mr Boncassen. ‘Whether it can be possible that a man should have risen to such a position with so little patriotism as you attribute to our friend, I will not pretend to say. I should think that in England it was impossible. But of this I am sure, that the facility which exists here for a minister or ministers to go out of office without disturbance of the Crown, is a great blessing. You say the other party will come in.’
‘That is most probable,’ said Silverbridge.
‘With us the other party never comes in — never has a chance of coming in — except once in four years, when the President is elected. That one event binds us for four years.’
‘But you do change your ministers,’ said Tregear.
‘A secretary may quarrel with the President, or he may have the gout, or be convicted of peculation.’
‘And yet you think yourselves more nearly free than we are.’
‘I am not so sure of that. We have had a pretty difficult task, that of carrying on a government in a new country, which is nevertheless more populous than almost any old country. The influxions are so rapid, that every ten years the nature of the people is changed. It isn’t easy; and though I think on the whole we’ve done pretty well, I am not going to boast that Washington is as yet a seat of political Paradise.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01