Old and New London: Volume 3. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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HISTORICAL REMINISCENCES OF THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT.
The Origin of the Parliaments—Ladies summoned to Parliament by Proxy—Ratification of Magna Charta by Henry III.—The King gives an Unconditional Assent to the Demands of the Barons—The Mad Parliament—The Parliament of Batts—Queen Elizabeth in Parliament—The Committal of Members to the Tower—The Long Parliament—Catching the Speaker's Eye—"Pride's Purge"—The "Rump"—Cromwell dissolves the Long Parliament—The "Little Parliament"—William Lilly, the Astrologer—The Wilkes Riots—Death of the Earl of Chatham—Lord North and the American War—Lord North's Retirement—Robbery at Lord Nugent's House—The Crown in Danger—Assassination of Mr. Spencer Perceval—The Casting Vote of the Speaker—Mr. Pitt and Lord Melville—Canning and Sir Robert Peel—The Trial of Queen Caroline—Mr. Disraeli's Maiden Speech—The First Opening of Parliament by Queen Victoria.
Having thus described the buildings of the old and the new Palace, we venture to devote a chapter to a few scattered notes on subjects relating to the inner life of the Houses of Parliament, as likely to be of interest to English readers, because they will throw light on our national history; and if they are fragmentary, it must be remembered that a regular chapter on the history of the English Parliament would be foreign to the plan and scope of the present work.
There is nothing in our history more uncertain than the birth of our Parliaments and the extent of their power in their early days. Blackstone says that "the original, or first, institution of Parliaments is one of those matters which lie so far hidden in the dark ages of antiquity, that the tracing of it out is a thing equally difficult and uncertain;" and how members were returned to the "Michel-Synoth," or Michel-Gemote, or Wittenagemote, of our Saxon ancestors, it would, doubtless, puzzle the learning of modern Anglo-Saxon scholars to ascertain with precision. "In the simple days of good King Alfred," observes a writer in Blackwood's Magazine, "Parliaments were not summoned 'for the dispatch of business'—that is, to discuss regulations concerning the taxes and the public debt, bank affairs, East Indian and West Indian affairs, and a thousand other concerns of national moment, then lying unborn in the womb of time. In those days the Great Council was ordained to meet twice in the year, or oftener if need be, to treat of the government of God's people, how they should keep themselves from sin, should live in quiet, and should receive right." If this be so, no wonder that the early Norman kings should have summoned the bishops and the leading abbots of monasteries to aid their lay nobles in their deliberations for the good of the nation at large.
In these early days it would appear that the government of this country was not altogether in the hands of the sterner sex, for we read that in the reigns of Henry III. and Edward I., four abbesses, if no more, were summoned to Parliament—namely, those of Shaftesbury, Barking, Winchester, and Wilton. In the 35th of Edward III. there were summoned, by writ, to Parliament, by their proxies, Mary, Countess of Norfolk, Eleanor, Countess of Ormonde, Anne, Lady de Spenser, Phillippe, Countess of March, Joanna, Lady Fitzwalter, Agneta and Mary, Countesses of Pembroke, Margaret, Lady de Roos, Matilda, Countess of Oxford, and Catherine, Countess of Athol. These ladies were called "Ad colloquium tractandum," by their proxies, it being a privilege of the peerage to appear by such representation.
Gurdon, in his "Antiquities of Parliament," goes even farther back than this, for he says that "ladies of birth and quality sat in council with the Saxon Witas. The Abbess Hilda (says Bede) presided in an ecclesiastical synod. In Wighfred's great council at Becconfeld, A.D. 694, the abbesses sat and deliberated; and five of them signed decrees of that council along with the king, bishops, and nobles. King Edgar's charter to the Abbey of Crowland, A.D. 961, was with the consent of the nobles and abbesses, who signed the charter."
In 1225, Henry III. summoned a Parliament to meet at Westminster; and there Hubert de Burgh, having opened the proceedings by an explanatory speech, asked for money "to enable the king to recover his own." At first the assembly refused to make any grant, but it was finally agreed that a fifteenth of all movable property should be given, on the express condition, however, that the king should ratify the two charters. Henry, accordingly, gave a third ratification of Magna Charta, together with a ratification of the Charter of Forests, and sent fresh orders to some of his officers, who had hitherto treated them with little respect, to enforce all their provisions.
On the 2nd of May, 1258, another Parliament was summoned by the above monarch in the same place. At this time a scarcity of provisions, combined with the growing weakness and misgovernment of the king, had disposed the people to desperate measures. The barons, who had formed a new confederacy, went to Westminster Hall in complete armour. "As the king entered, there was a rattling of swords: his eye glanced timidly along the mailed ranks; and he said, with a faltering voice, 'What means this? Am I a prisoner?' 'Not so,' replied Roger Bigod; 'but your foreign favourites and your own extravagance have involved this realm in great wretchedness; wherefore we demand that the powers of government be entrusted and made over to a committee of bishops and barons, that the same may root up abuses and exact good laws.' The king could do nothing else than give an unconditional assent to the demands of the barons; and with promises on their part to help him pay his debts, and prosecute the claims of his son in Italy, the Parliament was dissolved, to meet again at an early date at Oxford. On the 11th of the following month, the Parliament, which the royalists called the 'Mad Parliament,' accordingly met at Oxford. Here a committee of government was appointed, and it was enacted 'that four knights should be chosen by the votes of the freeholders in each county, to lay before the Parliament all breaches of law and justice that might occur; that a new sheriff should be annually chosen by the freeholders in each county; and that three sessions of Parliament should be held regularly every year.'"
At the commencement of the fifteenth century the Parliament of England had come to be a more important element in the State than heretofore, the people being more fully and equitably represented. It consisted of the three estates—the nobility, the clergy, and the commons, while the last of these classes consisted of between two and three hundred members, composed partly of knights, citizens, and burgesses. In this way, every grade of rank in the commonalty, and every trade and profession, could find its representative and advocate in the great legislative assembly of the kingdom.
In the reign of Henry VI., on Parliament being summoned to meet, orders were sent to the members that they should not wear swords; so they came to Parliament (like modern butchers) with long staves, whence the Parliament got the name of "The Parliament of Batts;" and when the batts were prohibited, the members had recourse to stones and leaden bullets. This Parliament was opened with the Confirmation of Liberties.
Whenever she appeared in public, as we learn from Bohun's "Character of Elizabeth," the great Tudor queen was always richly decked out with costly clothes, and adorned with gold and jewels. "On such occasions," he writes, "she ever wore high shoes that she might seem taller than indeed she was. The first day of the Parliament she would appear in a robe embroidered with pearls; the royal crown on her head, the golden ball in her left hand, and the sceptre in her right; and as she then never failed of the loud acclamations of her people, so she was ever pleased with it, and went along in a kind of triumph with all the ensigns of majesty."
The closing scene of the third Parliament of Charles I. was marked by the committal to the Tower of some eight or nine members of the House of Commons for their opposition to the king's will and pleasure; and an indirect intimation by Charles of his intention of dispensing with Parliaments altogether.
The celebrated assembly, known as the Long Parliament, which met for the first time at Westminster, on the 3rd of November, 1640, commenced its proceedings at eight in the morning; but after some time the attendance of members being found slack and irregular, sundry devices were resorted to, with the view of counteracting a movement which gave too much favour to early risers. At one time a roll was called; and at another it was ordered that whoever did not come at eight o'clock and be at prayers, should pay a fine of one shilling. On the first morning after this order was made, there was an excellent attendance. The House was full, but prayers could not be said. Mr. Speaker himself was not there—at a quarter before nine, in he walked. Prayers being over, Sir Harry Mildmay congratulated the House upon the good effect of the order made on the previous day; and said to the Speaker, that "he did hope that hereafter he would come in time;" which made the Speaker "throw down twelve pence upon the table." Other members coming in afterwards paid their respective shillings to the Serjeant. This shilling fine seems to have occasioned no little quibbling and contention, and it was accordingly soon relinquished. Another rule adopted in this Parliament, however, attained a firmer footing. On the 26th of November, in the same year, there was a long dispute as to who should speak; many members stood up at one time, each claiming precedence, and each backed by his friends. The confusion became intolerable. The passing of some rule preventing such discord in future was indispensable; and at last, as Sir Simonds D'Ewes tells us, "the House determined for Mr. White, and 'the Speaker's eye' was adjudged to be evermore the rule;" and so it has remained down to the present day.
Towards the close of the year 1648, while the Commons were debating upon a treaty with King Charles, who was then in the hands of Cromwell, the House was surrounded by the regiment of horse of Colonel Rich and the foot regiment of Colonel Pride. These measures were taken with the view of ridding, or "purging the House of," its Presbyterian majority. Colonel Pride, from whose active part in it the operation has been called "Pride's Purge," posted himself in the lobby, and arrested forty-one of the leading Presbyterian members as they arrived, and sent them to prison. The "purge" was continued on the following day. Not a few of the obnoxious members fled into the country, or hid themselves in the city; so that in a few days all that were left in the House of Commons were some fifty Independents, who were afterwards styled the "Rump." Cromwell, who had in the meantime arrived in London, then went into the "purged" House, and received their "hearty thanks" for his "great services."
As might naturally be expected, there has been no lack of "scenes" in the Lower House of Parliament from the day when Oliver Cromwell, attended by Lambert and a few other officers, and a file of musketeers, came into the Chamber of the Commons, and pointing to the Speaker's mace, surmounted with the crown, told Harrison—a religious enthusiast, who had been as active in bringing the Long Parliament to an end as Pride had been in purging it—to "take away that bauble." The scene is familiar to most educated readers, thanks to the engraver's art. One by one, it would appear, the members quickly left the House, and thus a clearance was soon effected, and the "Long Parliament" dissolved. Cromwell issued proclamations containing the grounds and reasons for dissolving the late Parliament and calling a new one; the latter consisted of some 120 "known persons, fearing God, and of approved integrity." The most noted of these members was Barbone, a dealer in leather, whose name, converted into "Barebones," was afterwards applied to the whole Parliament, though the more common appellation for that assembly was the "Little Parliament."
One would like to have been present, even as a little mouse, at that sitting in 1666, when the House sent for the astrologer, William Lilly, and called on him then and there to explain one of his hieroglyphics, which seemed to foretell the Great Fire of London. We suspect, however, if the truth must be told, that it was not so much as an astrologer that he was consulted, as with a view of discovering if he had been made the depository of any information or rumours which might have led him to expect such a catastrophe.
In the riots which arose out of the publication of No. 45 of the North Briton, by John Wilkes, the mob showed an amount of violence which had been unheard of for a century, within the very precincts of "our Palace of Westminster," and they were all but taking the life of Lord Mansfield. Indeed, if we may believe an eye-witness—Mr. Cradock—they proceeded to even greater lengths; at all events, he writes in his "Memoirs:"—"Confusion might then be said to be at its height, for the mob had broke into the passage that leads to the throne; his Majesty was just robed, and was proceeding from the closet, when many of us were pressed directly forwards, and with our clothes torn were absolutely thrown into the House." Such scenes have not often happened either before or since.
The death of the Earl of Chatham, painted by Copley, has been made so well known by the engraving that it is scarcely necessary to do more than just mention it here in connection with the old House of Peers. On the 7th of April, 1779, the Duke of Richmond, as Principal Secretary of State, moved an address to the King, urging, in strong terms, the necessity of immediately recognising the independence of our North American colonies. America, he said, was lost, and her independence established; further struggles against the de facto state of things were useless. Lord Chatham came down to the House, very feeble, and bowed down with bodily infirmity. He wore his court dress of black velvet, but from his knees downward he was wrapped in flannel. He was led into the House leaning on the arms of two of his brother peers, when all the House rose through respect for him. He was pale and thin, but his eye sparkled with all its original fire and lustre. When the Duke had ended, Lord Chatham rose, and, lamenting that his ailments had prevented his attendance on the duties of his station, he declared that he had now made an effort beyond his powers, and that he was probably in his place for the last time in his life. In the strongest terms, however, he objected to the disgrace of surrendering the rights of the mother-country, and of abandoning its fairest possessions; and concluded his speech by urging that England should make one more effort to recover the revolted states, or to fall in the effort like men. In reply, the Duke of Richmond said that he knew of no means by which England could resist the combined forces of America and France, adding that if Lord Chatham could not point out those means, no man living could do so. Much agitated, Lord Chatham made another effort to address the House, but before he could articulate more than a word or two, he fell down suddenly in a convulsive fit. The Duke of Cumberland, Lord Temple, and other peers who were near him, caught him in their arms; the House was cleared, and the debate adjourned. His lordship was taken off in his carriage to his favourite seat at Hayes, near Bromley, in Kent, where he lingered in an almost speechless state for a month, and died early in May. On the news of his death reaching the House of Commons, it was voted that a monument should be erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey; that £20,000 should be granted towards the payment of his debts; and that a provision should be made for his family in the shape of a pension of £4,000 a year, payable out of the Civil List, to be settled on the earldom. The title, however, became extinct on the death of his son and successor, in 1835. It is said—though, probably, with some little exaggeration—of the eloquence of the Earl of Chatham, that "his voice, even when it sank to a whisper, was heard to the remotest benches; when he strained it to its full strength, the sound rose like the swell of an organ of a great cathedral, shook the House with its peal, and was heard through lobbies and down staircases to the Court of Requests and the precincts of Westminster Hall."
When Lord North was Premier, in November, 1781, he was waited on in the House by Lord George Germain and Lord Stormont, with the intelligence of the defeat and surrender of the British forces in America under Lord Cornwallis. His subordinates arrived between one and two o'clock in the morning, were admitted, and told the sad news. "The First Minister's firmness," says Sir N. W. Wraxall, "and even his presence of mind, gave way for a short time under this awful disaster. I asked Lord George afterwards how he took the communication? As he would have taken a ball in his breast, replied Lord George; for he opened his arms, exclaiming wildly, as he paced up and down the apartment, 'O God! it is all over'—words which he repeated many times, in the deepest agitation and distress."
In the March following, Lord North, having been defeated on the American War, and "entering in his full-dress suit, and with the blue riband of the Order of the Garter over his coat," proceeded leisurely up the House, amidst the cries of "Order," and "Place," to announce his retirement from office. The scene inside and outside the House on this occasion has been well described by Sir N. W. Wraxall, who was then present. It appears, from his narrative, that to the very end Lord North retained that serenity and tranquillity which he had shown when he had behind his back a triumphant majority of supporters. "On that evening he had ordered his coach to remain at the House in waiting. In consequence of so unexpected an event as his resignation, and the House breaking up at an early hour, the housekeeper's room became crowded to the greatest degree, few members having ordered their carriages to be ready before midnight. In the midst of this confusion, Lord North's coach drove up to the door, and as he prepared to step into it, he said, turning to those who stood near him, with that unalterable equanimity and good temper which never forsook him, 'Good night, gentlemen; you see what it is to be in the secret!''
His lordship was accustomed to sleep during the Parliamentary harangues of his adversaries, leaving Sir Grey Cooper to note down anything remarkable. During a debate on ship-building, some tedious speaker entered on an historical detail, in which, commencing with Noah's ark, he traced the progress of the art regularly downwards. When he came to mention the Spanish Armada, Sir Grey inadvertently awoke the slumbering Premier, who inquired at what era the honourable gentleman had arrived. Being answered, "We are now in the reign of Queen Elizabeth," "Dear Sir Grey," said he, "why not let me sleep a century or two more?"
Lord North, corpulent, easy, and good-natured, was most popular in the House of Commons; he was, however, very awkward in his gait, so awkward indeed that, if we may believe the gossiping Sir N. W. Wraxall, on one occasion when the House was full, he took off on the point of his sword the wig of his right-hand neighbour, Mr. Welbore Ellis, and carried it across a considerable part of the floor without ever suspecting or perceiving his mistake.
If our readers would gain a view of the inside of the House of Commons as it was in the good old days, "when George the Third was king," they should go to the pleasant and gossiping pages of Sir N. W. Wraxall, who thus describes that august chamber on the first night after Lord North's ministry had given place to the coalition under Lords Rockingham and Shelburne:—"Never was a more total change of costume beheld than the House of Commons presented to the eye when that assembly met for the dispatch of business after the Easter recess of 1782. The Treasury Bench, as well as the places behind it, had been for so many years occupied by Lord North and his friends, that it became difficult to recognise them again in their new seats, dispersed over the Opposition Benches, in great coats, frocks and boots. Mr. Ellis himself appeared for the first time in his life in an undress. To contemplate the ministers, their successors, emerged from their obscure lodgings, or from 'Brookes's,' having thrown off their blue and buff uniforms, now ornamented with the appendages of dress, or returning from Court, decorated with swords, lace, and hair-powder, excited still more astonishment. Even some degree of ridicule attached to this extraordinary and sudden metamorphosis, which afforded subject for conversation no less than food for mirth. It happened that just at the time when the change of administration took place, Lord Nugent's house in Great George Street having been broken open, was robbed of a variety of articles; among others, of a number of pairs of lace ruffles. He caused the particulars of the effects stolen to be advertised in some of the daily newspapers, where they were minutely specified with great precision. Coming down to the House of Commons immediately after the recess, a gentleman who accidentally sat next to him asked his lordship if he had yet made any discovery of the articles recently lost. 'I can't say that I have,' answered he, 'but I shrewdly suspect that I have seen some of my laced ruffles on the hands of the gentlemen who now occupy the Treasury Bench.' This reply, the effect of which was infinitely increased by the presence of Fox and Burke in their court dresses, soon obtained general circulation, and occasioned no little laughter."
Sir Nathanael Wraxall also tells the following good story, under the date 1782, showing that even at that period the circumlocution office and its red tape virtually existed:—"On the occasion of his Majesty going to Westminster, to prorogue the two Houses, it became indispensable to convey thither the royal crown and the sceptre, together with various other articles of the state regalia. The Master of the Jewel Office being suppressed, in whose department these dispositions previously lay, application was made to the Lord Steward and the Lord Chamberlain, praying that orders might be issued to the keeper of the jewels in the Tower, for bringing them to Westminster on the day of the prorogation. But these great officers of State not conceiving themselves to possess a power of interference, directions were at once dispatched for the purpose from the Home Secretary of State's office. After some consultation held relative to the safest mode of conveying these royal ornaments, none of the King's carriages being sent to receive them, application was next made to the magistrates at Bow Street, who detached four or five stout agents of the police for their protection. Two hackneycoaches being provided, in which the various articles were placed, with a view to render the transportation of them more private, the procession set out circuitously from the Tower, by the New Road, entering London again at Portland Street, and so proceeded down to Westminster. The blinds were kept up the whole way; and after the prorogation they returned by the same road, without experiencing any accident. But it is unquestionable that eight or ten desperate fellows, had they been apprised of the circumstance, might have easily overpowered the persons employed, and carried off the jewels. The memorable enterprise of Colonel Blood, in the time of Charles II., who got possession of the crown and sceptre, though he ultimately failed, was, in fact, a far more hazardous undertaking, as he actually entered the Tower; whereas, in the present instance, the attempt might have been made in the street, or in the New Road. Any accident of the kind would necessarily have thrown some degree of ridicule, as well as of blame, on a system of economy productive of such consequences in its outset."
In the lobby of the old House, Mr. Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, was assassinated by a pistol being discharged at him by a disappointed Russian merchant, named John Bellingham, on Monday, the 11th of May, 1812. The following particulars of this tragic event are condensed from the evidence given at the inquest:—Bellingham had lived as a merchant in Liverpool, and, some three weeks previous to the murder, had called on General Gascoyne, M.P. for that borough, and requested his assistance to assert his claims upon Parliament, alleging that he had been falsely arrested at St. Petersburg, and that he had applied without effect to the then resident ambassador. The general recommended him to memorialise the minister. Nothing more appears to have been heard or seen of him till the afternoon of the above day, when, at about five o'clock, as Mr. Perceval was entering the lobby of the House of Commons, he was suddenly fired at by Bellingham, who was at once recognised by General Gascoyne, who happened to be in the House at the time. On the following Friday, the prisoner was brought to trial at the Old Bailey; he was found guilty, and condemned to death. His execution took place on the Monday morning after, in front of Newgate; so that the whole proceedings connected with this lamentable affair took place within one short week.
Connected with this event, there happened a circumstance so extraordinary and unaccountable, that, as it is probably very little known, we recount it for the benefit of our readers. It was first narrated in the principal newspapers at the time of the murder, and some years afterwards, the late Dr. Abercrombie was enabled, by the kindness of a medical friend, to obtain an account of it from the gentleman to whom the circumstance occurred. It was afterwards published by Dr. Abercrombie in his "Observations on the Intellectual Powers." The facts are simply as follow:—In the night of the 11th of May, 1812, Mr. Williams, of Scorrior House, Redruth, Cornwall, dreamed that he was standing in the lobby of the House of Commons, when a short gentleman entered, dressed in a blue coat and white waistcoat; immediately afterwards he saw a man, in a brown coat with yellow basketmetal buttons, draw a pistol from under his coat and discharge it at the former, who instantly fell, the blood issuing from a wound a little below the left breast. He saw the murderer seized by some gentlemen who were standing by, and dreamed that he was told that the murdered man was the Chancellor.
He awoke in great terror, and, rousing his wife, related the dream to her. She, however, made light of it, and he went to sleep again. Twice again, however, during the night were the same dreadful events presented to his imagination.
In the morning Mr. Williams made his strange dream known to all his acquaintances, and so great was the impression it made on his own mind that it was with much difficulty his friends dissuaded him from travelling to London to make it known to the Chancellor himself.
After being the talk of the neighbourhood for some few days, the matter rested, until the news was received that on that very day Mr. Perceval was shot in the lobby of the House of Commons, by a man named Bellingham. Some time afterwards Mr. Williams went to London, where he was shown the pictures of the murder (which were then published), and also the scene of the event itself. And it was found that the whole of the details of the dream corresponded with those of the real occurrence. The dresses of the murderer and his victim, the scene of the event, the title of the victim, the position occupied by the principal actors in the terrible tragedy, all agreed in the most startling manner with Mr. Williams's dream, which was thus entirely fulfilled.
It is not given to every one to "gain the ear of the House of Commons;" nor is it easy to say what are the precise qualifications for Parliamentary success in that line. Mr. Rae tells us, in his noble work on "The Opposition under George III.:"—"Erskine, who could mould a jury at his pleasure, and whose seductive voice could almost exorcise prejudice from a hostile court, could never influence a single division in the House of Commons, nor could he always gain an appreciative hearing. Flood, who came from Ireland, with the fame of a Demosthenes, failed to gain the ear of the House. The greatest glories of O'Connell are not enshrined in our Parliamentary annals. Lord Jeffrey, whose eminence as a critical writer was undisputed by any contemporary, was heard with bare courtesy when he addressed the House of Commons. Sir James Mackintosh, who entered Parliament with the lustre of a powerful forensic display undimmed, and with the reputation of being most fascinating in conversation, could seldom command the attention of his audience. Macaulay's spoken essays in the House of Commons were as gorgeous and finished pieces of rhetoric as the essays he contributed to the Edinburgh Review, yet Macaulay never gained high honours as a Parliamentary debater. Bulwer Lytton delivered many polished orations in the House of Commons, but he did not equal as a speaker the fame he acquired as a novelist. . . . Though John Stuart Mill gave utterance to some things which it required great moral courage to express, yet his Parliamentary career did not increase his world-wide fame as a thinker. In addition to his extraordinary popularity as a novelist, Mr. Disraeli has risen to the first place in the estimation of Parliament; and in this respect he divides with Sheridan the crown of victory over almost insuperable obstacles."
Mr. Mark Boyd, in his "Fifty Years' Reminiscences," when speaking of the casting vote of the Speaker, relates a circumstance which bears upon the death of Mr. Pitt. He says: "A Speaker once was driven into the corner; he found that 'aye' or 'no,' guilty or not guilty, must be settled by his casting vote. For the question he had to decide was, whether or no Lord Melville, as Treasurer to the Navy, had been guilty of official misconduct. It was in the year 1806 (the impeachment was in 1805) that this accusation was brought before the Commons, and it provoked, you may suppose, the utmost zeal and heat. Much was proved against Lord Melville; much, however, of the desire to prove his guilt sprang from party hate. His accusers may have loved justice, but they certainly, also, loved to plague an antagonist. Mr. Pitt, the Prime Minister, was strong on Lord Melville's side, his friend and colleague, but the opposing party was zealous and powerful. The fierce debate ended with an even vote—216 members declared for Lord Melville; 216 voted for his guilt. Lord Melville's fate was thus placed in the Speaker's hands, to be decided by that one vote. Yet it was long before the Speaker could give his vote; agitation overcame him; his face grew white as a sheet. Terrible as was the distress to all who awaited the decision from the chair; terrible as was the Speaker's distress, this moment of suspense lasted ten long minutes. There the Speaker sat in silence: all were silent. At length his voice was heard; he gave his vote, and he condemned Lord Melville. One man, at least, that evening was overcome. Mr. Pitt was overcome; his friend was ruined. At the sound of the Speaker's voice, the Prime Minister crushed his hat over his brows to hide his streaming tears that poured over his cheeks; he pushed in haste out of the House. Some of his opponents, I am ashamed to say, thrust themselves near, 'to see how Billy looked.' His friends gathered in defence around, and screened him from rude glances. During a quarter of a century, indeed almost ever since he had been a boy, Mr. Pitt had battled it in Parliament. His experience there was not victory only, but often defeat. This defeat, however, he sank under; it was his last—he died ere many months had passed. The death of that great man was hastened by Speaker Abbot's casting vote." Lord Melville was afterwards tried by his peers, and acquitted.
Pitt was remarkable for the neatness and precision of his dress, and for the attention which he paid to the Graces. Fox, on the other hand, was always careless and untidy in his person. To such an extent did he carry this peculiarity, that one day an Opposition paper gravely announced, as a piece of fashionable news, that he had "appeared in St. Stephen's in a clean waistcoat."
It is not a little singular that the attainment of place and power by the Pitts was due to an accident. Thomas Pitt, of Brentford, Middlesex, Governor of Fort St. George in the East Indies, in the reign of Queen Anne, by a trifling purchase became the possessor of a diamond weighing 127 carats, which he sold to the King of France for £135,000. It was styled the "Pitt Diamond," and out of the purchase-money the family became so opulent that Mr. Pitt was enabled to send his son at an early age into the House of Commons.
We are told by those who were present on the happy occasion, that when, in the year 1814, Lord Castlereagh returned to England after concluding the negotiations of peace with France, the whole House rose up and cheered him as he entered. And it is almost needless to add that no less an honour was paid to the Duke of Wellington, in 1814, when he appeared at the bar of the House to return his acknowledgments for an address which had been presented to him at his private residence.
It was within the walls of this House that, during the first quarter of the present century, Canning, with all his fervid and brilliant rhetoric, would uphold the monarchical and aristocratical character of the English constitution, and scathe Hobhouse and Burdett, Mackintosh and Brougham, with his sarcasms, as often as they started the subject of a reform in the representation of the people. Here, at a later date, Sir Robert Peel, in opposition, would, night after night, enlighten and charm his audience with his ready and well-disciplined harangues, couched in flowing periods, and illustrated with the most varied resources of his gifted and classical mind.
In May, 1806, was instituted a royal commission, consisting of the Lords Erskine, Grenville, Spencer, and Ellenborough, all then members of the cabinet, to inquire into the charges brought against the Princess Caroline Amelia (afterwards Queen Caroline), the consort of George IV. Within a few months after her marriage with the Prince of Wales, domestic differences arose; and these unhappy differences, from whatever cause they sprang, terminated in a separation within three months after the birth of her only child, the Princess Charlotte. The Princess of Wales became the inhabitant of a separate establishment, and resided for some years at Blackheath, but in 1814 she retired to Italy. Of the life she had been leading during her exile there was many an unfavourable, and even foul, report; and although the "delicate investigation"—as the above commission came to be called—had been extinguished, a new one had followed her in her wanderings, and all the reports that were multiplying against her were collected and sent to London as fresh matters of accusation, should circumstances compel such a step. On her return to England, in 1820, the Government pressed proceedings against her. A secret inquiry was first held, against which the Queen vehemently protested, demanding time to bring witnesses from abroad, and requesting to be heard by counsel. Messrs. Brougham, Denman, and Williams, being allowed to present themselves at the bar of the House, dwelt eloquently upon the hardships of the Queen's case, and on the necessity of delay. On the day after the secret committee had given in its report, the Earl of Liverpool, in pursuance of it, brought in a Bill of Pains and Penalties, intituled "An Act to deprive her Majesty Queen Caroline Amelia Elizabeth of the title, prerogatives, rights, privileges, and exemptions of Queen-consort of this realm, and to dissolve the marriage between his Majesty and the said Caroline Amelia Elizabeth." The statement of the Attorney-General in support of the bill occupied two days in delivery. As he was finishing, the shoutings of a tremendous multitude announced the approach of her Majesty. She entered the House of Lords, and then the examination of witnesses was commenced. Upon hearing the clerk of the House call the name of Teodoro Majocchi, the third witness, the Queen started from her seat with a faint cry, and rushed out of the House. This man had been her servant, and a close eye-witness of most of her proceedings for a long time. It was assumed by some that her emotion and her cry proceeded from conscious guilt, taken by surprise at the production of such a witness; by others it was reasoned that she might have been excited only by disgust and indignation at the ingratitude and treachery of an old servant. The trial having lasted from the 19th of August to the 7th of September, the case against the Queen closed, and an adjournment took place to allow time for her counsel to prepare her defence. On the 3rd of October, Mr. Brougham delivered his speech for the defence at great length, and with astonishing eloquence and effect. He was ably followed by Mr. Williams; and the examination of the Queen's witnesses continued until the 24th of October. When it finished, Mr. Denman went over the whole case with vast ability and with equal boldness. "The witnesses against the Queen," we are told, "had in some instances prevaricated; and although a good deal of their testimony was perfectly convincing, the case, in the apprehension of what was perhaps the majority of the nation, was left in that state which Scotch lawyers call 'not proven.'" The Bill of Pains and Penalties afterwards passed the second and third reading, the latter, however, being carried by such a few votes, that Lord Liverpool declared that, looking at this small majority, and at the state of the public feeling, he and his colleagues abandoned the bill. The session of Parliament was in consequence unexpectedly prorogued by his Majesty. "Thus ended, in defeat and disgrace to the King, an indecent, obscene contest, which had filled right-minded men with unutterable disgust, and which had made every Englishman residing or travelling on the Continent hold down his head and blush for his sovereign and his country."
Mr. Rush, in his "Court of London," draws a vivid picture of one scene in the above drama:—"On November 23rd, 1820, an unusual sight," he writes, "was witnessed in the House of Commons. The Queen having applied to the ministry for a place to reside in since the Bill of Pains and Penalties against her was withdrawn, and her application being refused on the ground that it rested with Parliament to provide an establishment of that kind, Mr. Denman, as one of her counsel and also a member of the House, rose and endeavoured to read a message from her Majesty before the usual forms of prorogation were gone through; but he could obtain no hearing. Uproar and confusion followed, making it difficult to get through the forms. The prorogation, however, was duly effected in the end. The very fact of the Queen sending a message to the House may be considered as in character with the speech she was said to have made after the bill against her had passed to a second reading. Her counsel drew up a protest against it, which was taken to her to sign. This she did with a hearty good-will, exclaiming, as she threw down the pen, 'There! Regina still, in spite of them all!'"
As stated in "The Random Recollections of the House of Commons," Mr. Disraeli's own private friends looked forward to his introduction into the House of Commons as a circumstance which would be immediately followed by his obtaining for himself an oratorical reputation equal to that enjoyed by the most popular speakers in that assembly. "They thought that he would produce an extraordinary sensation, both in the House and in the country, by the power and splendour of his eloquence. But the result differed from the anticipation. It was known for some days previously that he was to make his maiden speech in the course of the discussion respecting the Spottiswoode combination. . . When he rose, which he did immediately after Mr. O'Connell had concluded his speech, all eyes were fixed upon him, and all ears were open to listen to his eloquence; but, before he had proceeded far, he furnished a striking illustration of the hazard that attends on highly-wrought expectations. After the first few minutes he met with every possible manifestation of opposition and ridicule from the Ministerial benches, and was, on the other hand, cheered in the loudest and most earnest manner by his Tory friends. At one time, in consequence of the extraordinary interruptions he met with, Mr. Disraeli intimated his willingness to resume his seat, if the House wished him to do so. He proceeded, however, for a short time longer, but was still assailed by groans and under-growls in all their varieties; the uproar, indeed, often became so great as completely to drown his voice. At last, losing all temper, which until now he had preserved in a wonderful manner, he paused in the midst of a sentence, and looking the Liberals indignantly in the face, raised his hands, and opening his mouth as wide as its dimensions would permit, said, in remarkably loud and almost terrific tones, 'Though I sit down now, the time will come when you will hear me!'" And come it did. But it was more than fourteen years before the clever novelist, having won his spurs as a debater, came to hold office as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and thirty before he took his seat at the head of the Treasury Bench as Premier.
The opening of a new Parliament by the sovereign in person is at any time a most interesting circumstance, and never fails to attract a large concourse of persons, not only to the vicinity of the Houses of Parliament, but to every part of the line of procession. The interest of such an occurrence on the occasion of the first opening of Parliament by Queen Victoria, after her accession to the throne in 1837, was greatly heightened by her Majesty being an amiable lady of the tender age of eighteen. Loyalty and gallantry, therefore, both combined to draw out the population of London to witness the ceremony. Lady Mary Montagu gives a graphic description of the siege which a troop of duchesses, countesses, and other titled ladies, laid to the door of the gallery of the House of Lords, when, in her time, some interesting debate was expected; and how, when they found, after a ten hours' assault, that the gallery was not to be taken by storm, they succeeded in effecting an entrance by stratagem. The ladies in the present case were not under the necessity of attempting an entrance into the gallery by sheer physical force, for they had in most cases procured a Lord Chamberlain's order of admission. The whole of the benches on the floor and the two side galleries were occupied by the female portion of the families of the peers, all attired in their costliest and most magnificent dresses; the effect produced by the dazzling splendour of the jewellery, &c., on the mind of the spectator may perhaps be easier imagined than described; suffice it to state that the spectacle was, perhaps, one of the most interesting of the kind ever witnessed in this or any other country. On the entry of her Majesty into the House, the peeresses and all present simultaneously rose, "while every breast throbbed with exultation at the sight of their sovereign." An eye-witness of the scene tells us that "her Majesty, having taken her seat on the throne, desired the peers to be seated. The intimation was known to be equally meant for the ladies. The Commons were then summoned into the royal presence. The summons was forthwith followed by a scene which strongly contrasted with that hitherto presented. There is a proverb, which is current in certain districts of the country, that some people are to be heard when they are not to be seen. The adage received a remarkable illustration in the case of the representatives of the people on this occasion. No sooner had the door been opened (in obedience to the mandate of the Queen) which leads into the passage through which they had to pass on their way to the bar of the House of Lords, than you heard a pattering of feet, as if it had been of the hoofs of some three or four score of quadrupeds. This, however, was only one of the classes of sounds which broke on the ears of all in the House of Lords, and even of those who were standing in the passages leading to it. There were loud exclamations of 'Ah! ah!' and a stentorian utterance of other sounds, which denoted that the parties from whom they proceeded had been suddenly subjected to some painful visitation. Al eyes—not even excepting the eyes of her Majesty—were instantly turned towards the door of the passage whence the sounds proceeded. Out rushed, towards the bar of the House of Lords, a torrent of members of the Lower House, just as if the place which they had quitted had been on fire, and they had been escaping for their lives. The cause of the strange, if not alarming, sounds which had been heard a moment or two before, was now sufficiently intelligible to all. They arose from what Mr. O'Connell would call the mighty struggle among the members, as to who should reach the House of Lords first, and by that means get the nearest to the bar, and thereby obtain the best place for seeing and hearing. . . . Her Majesty having taken the oath against Popery," continues our informant, "which she did in a slow, serious, and audible manner, proceeded to read the royal speech, and a specimen of more tasteful and effective elocution it has never been my fortune to hear. The most perfect stillness reigned through the place while her Majesty was reading her speech. Her self-possession was the theme of universal admiration. Nothing could have been more complete. The speech being ended, Victoria descended from the throne, and with slow and graceful steps retired from the House to her robing-room, a few yards distant; nodding, as she did on her entrance, to most of the peeresses whom she passed."
A far different sight to that now witnessed must have been presented by either House of Parliament a century ago, when members wore their stars and their court dress, when wigs had not been laid aside, and when those who did not wear wigs would as soon have omitted to eat their dinner as to powder their hair. The bishops wore their wigs, at all events in their place in Parliament, down to a comparatively late date in her present Majesty's reign. It is recorded that the first Duke of Cleveland, who died in 1842, was the very last member of the House of Lords who appeared in that august assembly with a "pig-tail" and powder. It was the first French Revolution which really destroyed all the external marks of "the quality," and what have we gained in exchange? We must candidly acknowledge that a little too much of "equality" has come in along with the comparatively unobjectionable elements of "liberty and fraternity."