« AnteriorContinuar »
supported by two columns, richly gilt, which were adorned with spiral wreaths of oak-leaves and acorns. On the pedestals of the columns were tridents, olive-branches, and other emblems.
The walls of this apartment were hung with a richlywrought tapestry, representing the hostile fleets of England and Spain, at the time of the destruction of the Armada. The heads of the naval heroes who commanded on the occasion, formed a border around the work. Hence Chatham's reference in that lofty strain of protest and indignant reprobation at the proposal in the House of Lords, to employ the native and barbarous tribes of North America in the contest with the colonies: “From the tapestry that adorns these walls, the immortal ancestor of the noble lord frowns with indignation at the disgrace of his country,” &c. .
The floor of the House of Commons occupied by the members in debate was economically arranged with seats, or benches, covered with cushions, rising one above another from the little space left in the centre for the clerks' table and speaker's chair, where the house, when full, was as closely packed as possible. Indeed, I should not think it possible for all the members, 658, to have found seats, even by occupying the side galleries, which were appropriated to their use. The reporters and spectators were admitted only to the front gallery, except by special privilege, when there was room, “strangers," as all who are not members are called, were admitted by an order from the speaker behind the bar under the first gallery. The “bar” is a place of promiscuous and general rendezvous for members and strangers, where talking and confusion often arise, and occasion the call so frequently made in the house and by the speaker, “bar,” “ bar," which being interpreted, as I hardly need say, means, " order at the bar.” I should not think it possible for either house, even by cramming, to admit more than 800 persons; and in such case, I apprehend, there was little comfort for those who might have been there.
On the west side of Westminster Hall, as part of the same pile, are the Courts of Chancery, Vice Chancery, Common Pleas, Exchequer, and King's Bench, which escaped the conflagration. These are entered from the hall-along the inside of the wall of which are seen over the door of each, the appropriate denomination of the court to which it opens. Indeed, the hall itself is a mere highway, in its common use, to the courts and to the houses of parliament-a lobby, the vestibule of the temple; and the porch is infinitely greater and more magnificent than was the temple itself, and might almost have received the other parts on its own floor, as so many pieces of furniture. A stranger is struck with the magnificence of this entrance, and has wondered at its appropriation to so vile a use, when he wandered in vain
through endless labyrinths to find something worthy of such a beginning; and behold all else was little and mean.
Imagine a mountain with a family of shapeless hills thrown around its base-or a magnificent catacomb connecting itself with a thousand meaner graves—all without form and void—and that is Westminster Hall, with its courts and Houses of Parliament, and committee-rooms, and confectionaries, and kitchens, and eating and smoking apartments, and the innumerable and devious channels of communication, &c. &c. as they existed before the fire-all thrown together in a heap, as if it were the only collection of indescribables ever put in juxtaposition without plan. And yet, place Westminster Hall by itself, divest it of its shapeless adjuncts, many of which are standing since the conflagration, and it would have been a magnificent edifice; but with ever so many things stuck on to it, in ever so many ways, for ever so many purposes, it was a vast pile of deformity.
“Strangers” may be admitted at any time to the gallery of the House of Commons, while the house is in session, by a fee of half a crown to the doorkeeper, or by an order from a member. The original rules of the house, I believe, suppose the legislature always to be sitting with closed doors. The privilege of admission is winked at. The custom of reporting the business of Parliament in newspapers is an open breach of privilege, and is an instance of the silent legislation of public opinion over the sleeping statutes of a community. Reporters, or their employers, the responsible utterers of these fraudulent acquisitions, are not called to account, except for some disrespect to the house, or its members, or for some wilful injustice. Both houses hold the power in terrorem of calling offenders of this kind directly to their bar, and of legislating and adjudicating on the case summarily at their discretion. They do not, however, often take occasion to employ it. The press is allowed to use great liberties, both with Parliament and individual members, without being noticed.
The editor of the Morning Post was brought to the bar of the House of Lords during the session of 1834, for a contempt done to its judicial character in the person of the Lord Chancellor, by misrepresentation of the doings of the court; and as the examination fully acquitted the house and its high officer before the public, the clemency of the court was extended to the editor by granting his discharge, after he had expressed his regret for the breach of privilege. The editor was supposed to be imposed upon by a secret communication with one of the peers, who had made an improper use of the records of the house, thereby impeaching the Lord Chancellor, or leading to his impeachment, in his high judicial functions. The article in the paper was a tremendous assault, and for the moment created quite a sensation. It was an admirable opportunity for the Lord Chancellor (Brougham) to show his address in getting out of a difficulty, and to inflict a merited chastisement on his defamer. A pro forma record had been taken by the editor for a moral delinquency and a gross violation of official character.
Access to the House of Lords can be obtained only by an order from one of the peers, which, however, is always readily granted to the extent of the privilege of members, to respectable persons on a suitable application. While important debates are in progress, it is more difficult to obtain admittance, and requires an early attendance. Strangers are always required to leave the house on a divisionreporters included. The reporters depend upon private interviews with members to get what is done in their absence on a division, if it be not improper to be communicated.
As in the legislative bodies of the United States, the upper house of the British Parliament is more dignified than the lower. In both Houses of Parliament, however, they are at liberty to sit with their hats on. I have never been in a senate or upper house of any one of the American states where this is practised. The Senate of the American Congress is altogether the most dignified body of the kind, whose deliberations I have ever attended; and the House of Representatives, in some respects, is the farthest in the other extreme. It is true, they are not so uproarous as the British House of Commons. There are obvious reasons for these distinguishing features in both.
In the lower House of the American Congress, the business is done before dinner; every member has his desk, his stationary, and ample room to work. There he sits with his hat on; reads his papers; writes all his letters, seals and despatches them ;-in short, does all his business, as a correspondent and as a statesman, and redeems his time out of the house for society. The members walk about, assemble in groups, chat, and do any sort of business, in a manner as open and careless, as on a merchants' exchange in a commercial emporium-and that, too, while a member is making his speech, if it be not interesting and commanding enough to claim attention. The speaker's rap on the desk and his call for order are mere matters of ceremony, and all goes on as if he had nó authority. As they have no way of putting down a speech-maker in the House of Representatives of the American Congress, if they do not like him; in other words, as he has as good a right to.go through, whether heard or not, as a preacher has to finish his sermon without being interrupted, the grant of this privilege is purchased at the expense of allowing a corresponding right of inattention, if the members think they have any
thing better to do. The Senate of Congress have also their desks, stationary, &c.; but they are more respectful to each other. They take no liberties of associating in groups; there is no buzz of conversation during a debate ; the members being few, two for each state, and when all are present cannot exceed forty-eight, and being for the most part men of a high order of talent, they seldom speak without attention.
The British House of Commons meet only for debate. Immemorial custom has decided, that he only shall occupy the time of the house who can command general respect. It is impossible to inflict a speech upon that body of any unreasonable length. They have ways of putting down which no man can resist. It is true this part of their duty has a somewhat undignified appearance, and occasionally runs into a complete riot. Take, for example, a part of a debate on motion of Mr. Wood, for the admission of dissenters to equal privileges in the universities :
“Mr. G. W. Wood rose to reply. (The laughing, jeering, shouting, and coughing, were such as we never before witnessed.) The honourable gentleman said, it had been declared that the bill in its present stage was essentially different from what it was when he had the honour to introduce it into the house. (At this moment two hon. members, 'o'er the ills of life victorious,' suddenly entered from the smokingroom into the opposition gallery, and stretching theniselves at full length on the seats, secure from the observation of the speaker, commenced a row of the most discreditable character.) This he denied. (In the gallery — I say, can't you crow?'-laughter and uproar.) The provisions had not been altered—('hear him, how he reads ") the enactments were in every respect unaltered. (Loud cheering, followed by bursts of laughter.) The question was—(. Read it-read it ! and great uproar.) the question (just so-read it)—the question (greut cheering, and laughter) whether ('that's the question')—whether the universities should be open to all, or be for ever under the control of mere(* Where's the man that crows ?'— Laughter, and cries of order ! from the speaker). Public opinion ( 0 dear!'-and great uproar, during which the speaker, evidently excited, was loudly calling for order. The scene here was indescribable.)”—A London paper.
This, indeed, is rather an extraordinary case; but it cannot be denied that it is a case in point, and a striking illustration. Besides the bad appearance and want of dignity in such noisy and riotous proceedings, injustice is often done to individuals.
It may even be, in some cases, an insuperable obstacle to the making of men, who, but for this most formidable ordeal, would rise and distinguish themselves in the state ; but being modest and sensitive, they have not the moral courage to encounter and bear down such an onset. But with all its evils, it may be questionable, at least, whether it is not preferable to that great waste of time, which speeches, made for newspapers and for constituents, cost a nation.
It will not be understood that the above specimen is a common mode of putting down a speaker. That was outrageous—barbarous. The usual methods are-general uneasiness; moving; coughing; going out; calling for the “ question;" and if these hints are not sufficient, an increase of tumult, amid cries of“ order," &c., until the voice of the speaker is drowned, and he is obliged to stop. If there is a general disposition to put him down, he might as well speak against an ocean tempest.
Audible expressions, either of approbation or disapprobation, are rarely heard in American legislative assemblies during their debates. Public opinion is against it. They sometimes occur at popular meetings of a political character; but never at the gravest deliberations. In England they are heard at all meetings of a deliberative kind : in Parliament, at the hustings, at public dinners, and even at the anniversaries of benevolent and religious societies, everywhere, and on all occasions open for public discussion. Hear! hear! yes ! yes! no! no! shame! shame! clapping; stamping; scraping ; hissing, and antagonist cheering; groans; and all manner of modes to express satisfaction or dislike. It is the spontaneous expression of the feelings of the moment. The hearers take part with the speaker, and persons in a remote part of a large assembly will not unfrequently cry out, and give utterance to some short sentence, with which there may, or may not, be the manifestation of a general sympathy. When the speaker is universally and loudly cheered, he must pause till it dies away; if he is generally rebuked, he may be obliged to sit down.
All this is witnessed in Parliament, especially in the House of Commons. The House of Lords is a more grave assembly, and it seldom goes beyond monosyllabic expressions, and those not often in a general cry. But cheering and rebuking speakers in deliberative assemblies are the habit of the nation, and are as sure to occur as a man gets up to make a speech. Sometimes it is not very befitting. I once witnessed it when it was absolutely shocking. It was at a meeting of the friends of Sunday Schools at Exeter Hall, when a speaker very properly and eloquently ascribed the prosperity of the institution to the blessing of God, and took occasion to express a high degree of emotion, which he appeared to feel in unison with this idea, by quoting a passage of Scripture, big with the sublimest sentiments of devotion in a proper doxology“Not unto us, not unto us, O Lord, but to thy name be all the glory!" and instantly the whole assembly burst into a loud shout of applause! and that, too, when it was evident the