As a legislative body, the Peers must hereafter always yield when they are opposed by the will of a popular minister; but those are greatly mistaken who suppose that their sway is entirely past. On the outside of Parliament the Lords are still powerful if not paramount. In society, on their estates, in the hunting field, in the Church, the army, the press, the courts of law, their influence is prodigious.
In all the circles that make up English high society, aristocratic politics are predominant. What the Lords think and wish is all-important there. Nothing in this world can be more delightful or desirable for the fortunate few who possess it, than the position of the English aristocrats; and naturally they favor the political party which aims at retain- ing this position lor them; or, rather, they lead and control, they constitute, and to a great degree compose it. At clubs and dinners and country houses, as well as in the newspapers controlled by those who frequent such places or aspire to do so, the tone of politics is generally very different from what prevails in less exclusive spheres. Public opinion often does not penetrate to the Peers, but their opinions always filter outward and downward. Every great lady in England is interested in the movements and measures of politics, and is acquainted with most of the prominent men, at least on her own side. Many are politicians themselves, and some have really been leaders, though as a rule only of personal cliques and for personal motives. They are, of course, conservative.
When Lord Beaconsfield returned from Berlin in 1878, having arrested the advance of Russia upon Constantinople, half a dozen duchesses met him at the railway station with salutations and flowers, to indicate their partisanship. Later still there have been instances of women of rank attempting to influence the electors. It is not long since Lady Derby was openly accused of illegally soliciting votes on Lord Derby's estates. The first Lady Dilke, though only a baronet's wife, drove about London in an open carriage distributing favors when her husband was a candidate; and the part that an American aristocrat, Lady Randolph Churchill, took in the elections of 1885, is as well known here as in England.
All of which shows that the blandishments of rank are as potent with the tradesmen of Chelsea or the peasants of Woodstock, as with Prime Ministers. For it is not only the feminine charm that is irresistible, although Englishmen as a rule are very manly, and therefore very susceptible to womanly wiles ; but had these ladies been simply the equals of tbose whom they sought to affect, their success would not have been achieved nor their effort made. It was arrogance and assumption of the most arrant sort. But the English like arrogance and assumption in their betters. They consider these qualities appropriate in those entitled to display them.
The aristocratic influence does not stop short at society, nor is it confined to elections. Wealth everywhere that is not inherited, whether acquired by manufactures or commerce or whatever means, seeks to bask in the favor of the nobility, is ambitious of their connection, craves admission to their company. The professions lean for their support on the higher orders. The lawyers, who manage the estates of the lords, and the physicians, who care for their bodies, are alike dependants of the aristocracy, and so regard themselves. The Church and the army have long been appurtenances of the great monopoly. The clergy are, for the most part, the creatures of lay patronage, and peculiarly connected with the landed interest; they everywhere cleave to power.
Even in the courts of law the influence of the aristocracy is apparent. A lord may sit on the bench beside a judge, though often he is a notorious violator of the law. If a drunken marquis or a rowdy viscount is brought before a magistrate, he is usually treated with servile deference, a fine is meted out to him for the offence which in a humbler culprit would be punished with imprisonment, and my lord is bowed graciously out of court. The English are fond of proclaiming the incorruptible character of their judiciary, and of late years judges have hardly ever been bought with money; but social influences have repeatedly affected the conduct and the decisions of the courts. In the famous Tichborne case the whole pressure of society was brought to bear upon judge and advocate, till, to the disgrace of the profession and the bench, the barrister threw up his brief and deserted his client when the case was only half tried, and two judges in succession ruled so notoriously to the prejudice of the accused that both the press and public opinion proclaimed a disapproval.
In the case of the will of a late Lord Chancellor, a decision, manifestly in violation of law, was brought about by similar influences. The testimony of the daughter of Lord St. Leonards was received as to the language of a will in her own favor, though the original will was lost. There was, in fact, no proof that the will had ever been made, except the evidence of the interested party; yet the judge decided that a document reversing all the ordinary rules of English descent should be accepted, though it had never been in court. But high society was hostile to the regular heir.
The influence of the aristocracy upon literature and the press is too important a theme to be discussed in a paragraph. But there are inany of the learned and intellectual men of England so affected by the splendor and pageantry of rank that their reason is subdued by their imagination; or else they are so constituted by nature that they prefer stability to progress. Since so much has been achieved under aristocratic rule they are averse to change, and remain indifferent to the misery which must exist so long as the great disparity of condition continues.
The tradesmen in the cities and smaller towns are supported by the aristocrac ; the farmers in the country are their tenants and dependants; of course, these follow the lead of their masters and superiors.
The hinds, as they are still called, the helots on the estates, are as stolid and brutish a race as any peasantry in the world, and seem, like the slaves at the South before emancipation, content with their condition, because they have never known or conceived any other. They are bred to suppose that what they see is the natural order of things, and that change is not only wrong but impossible; that their lot is ordained of God, as inevitable as death, and deliverance as far off as the stars. The parson preaches this doctrine for religion; the squire lays it down as the law; for the squire is also the Justice of the Peace, the highest and often the only officer of the law the laborer ever sees. Law, religion, rank, power, all are on one side ; and the wretch with his shilling a day and his family to support lives near the palace of his master, and rots and drinks, or starves and dies, ignorant of the possibility of improvement, and submissive they say.
I remember discussing the permanency of English institutions with a man who had been in half the Governments of England during the last fifty years. He expressly invited my opinions, and I spoke freely. I said that of course the aristocracy and the upper classes were content with their condition, and even with the general state of affairs; that the middle class comprising those who live by the aristocracy the tradesmen, the domestic servants, and the farmers, and higher still, those who aspire to enter the aristocracy, or, at least, to associate with it, were unwilling to disturb that order which is their support and their pride ; but when the class below all these is reached, the manufacturing working class and the agricultural laborer eight millions at least in numbers I doubted whether content was universal or whether, if they had the power, they would use it to maintain either Crown or Lords. It was then that he replied with the remark I have quoted before: "Every Englishman is at heart a lackey. We all want something above us; something to kotow to."
He admitted that the manufacturing working people were radical, and perhaps revolutionary, in their ideas ; but he thought the hinds on the estates preferred to have superiors ; that the feudal feeling with them was still uppermost; that they were satisfied. Stolid, it seems to me they are, but not satisfied; and when they get some notion that a different life for them is possible, when they discover that their class in other countries exerts an influence, I would not answer for their submissiveness. The lackeys may be taken from this class, but not all the class are lackeys. The President of the Poor Law Board, the highest authority on these matters in England, informed me that there are a million of paupers in the kingdom, wretches without a particle of means, supported by the State. It is impossible that the contrast between this worse than poverty and the opulence and luxury of others should not sometimes present itself to the stupidest mind. The very week after this conversation the agricultural disturbances of 1870 occurred, and the movement led by Joseph Arch; and all England was anxious for months lest the helots should rise. Today they have the ballot. [As Written]
RANK AND TITLE
THE PRINCE OF WALES
AMERICANS AT COURT
THE CROWN IN POLITICS
QUEENS' PERSONAL CHARACTER
SERVANTS' HALL PRECEDENCE
THE HOUSE OF LORDS
THE PRINCESS OF WALES
A NOBLEMAN INDEED
POMPS & VANITIES OF CHURCH
CHURCH & STATE
HOUSE OF COMMONS
LITERATURE & THE LORDS
THE LONDON SEASON