Page images
PDF

their improvement. What shall we say of the condition of the people which in respect of household tenure and beneficent municipal activity depends so much upon these laws? Are the problems of education and of ecclesiastical organization completely solved? The question of colonial relations deserves a better fate than that of being brought forward at the fag-end of platform declamations in favor of Protection. In our better times the statesman interested in it would have addressed his most careful argument to his fellows in the House of Commons. Who again can fail to see how much work might be done through Parliament in the development of international friendship and the reduction of armaments? No failure of subjects can excuse the limitation of private members' opportunities in the House of Commons. Nor can any defence of it be found in the plea that newspapers now do the work which was done by such men as Hume, Cobden, Lord Ashley, Molesworth and their compeers. Newspapers chronicle and pursue the work of others. The editor of a daily newspaper can hardly afford to look beyond his nose. When debates originate in Parliament, newspapers perforce report them and offer some comment upon them. The flip-flap opinions thus expressed, backing and tilling with wind, may not be of much value; but they draw attention to what is going on, the real, motive power lying in that force to which they simply testify.

The energy of Parliament has declined, Parliamentary authority declines with it, and the nation has suffered thereby. There is no want of subjects requiring discussion, and no substitute for Parliamentary discussion has been found. There remains, however, the parlous plea that the men of past generations are wanting. The eager reforming spirits of the past are not in the House of Commons. If they

were, they would soon assert themselves and make the necessary channels for their activity. Here, I think, we touch the real source of decay. And yet it is difficult to believe that nature is not as prolific to-day as yesterday in men ardently eager to work for the public good. The sources of reforming energy have not dried up. Has there been any change in the organization of public life limiting or denying the facility of entrance into the House of Commons of the power that once found its way there?

The change in our electoral machinery, under the operation of which members are returned by single-member constituencies, has quietly effected a radical change in the character of the House itself. Local influences formerly produced irregularly enough a great variety in the composition of the House of Commons. When a man was patron of his own borough or lord of his own district he was independent enough, and if self-will often produced nothing but wilful eccentricity it sometimes expressed a rough invaluable commonsense. When again there were two members to be returned for a constituency, it was common and almost necessary to run, as candidates, representatives of two wings of a party, thus producing in the House of Commons different grades of political opinion. And again, it was not an accident that, with the redi vision of the country, there sprang into existence federal party organizations, highly centralized, which have become more and more actively engaged in the formation of programmes, the introduction of candidates, and, most of all, in the direct management of elections. A General Election may happen so hurriedly as not to find this wldespreadiug machinery fully prepared for its work; but there is generally sufficient forewarning, and in bye-elections the machinery is constantly exhibited in full operaitlon. The result is seen in a decline in the quality of candidates and in the growing poverty of Parliamentary life. Any one who would wish to study the process in detail may be recommended to read Ostrogorski's book, "Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties," a monument of years of careful and acute industry devoted to a patient study of political developments here and in the United States. The elaboration of the "machine" has not reached the degree of perfection among ourselves that it has across the Atlantic, but the process is of the same character. The force of individuality declines. Large views and the advocacy of great ideas are discredited. The men who are in request are those who will fall into their places according to pattern, and there is such a standardization of items that no difficulty can be found in replacing any link that accidentally drops out. I repeat that this is not realized among ourselves everywhere and at once— "dark horses" will creep in provided they can keep their qualities in obscurity at first, which is a bad preparation for subsequent independence— but it is sufficiently realized to deaden enthusiasm for causes among the elec.torate and to produce that lack of euerergy in the House of Commons which lies at the bottom of the decay of Parliamentary life and of Parliamentary authority.

Generations do, without doubt, differ from one another in vitality; and it may be that we are passing through a somewhat listless period. But we may as well make as good use as we can of the materials we have. The nation is still rich enough in publicspirited thinkers and workers, and Parliament might be rich too, if we •cleared away the obstructions which make narrow and difficult the ways into it. A comparatively simple change holds the promise of a complete

transformation. If, instead of singlemember constituencies, we had constituencies of half-a-dozen members, and provisions enabling different groups of electors within each constituency to get a representative for themselves if they were of adequate size to justify the claim, we should at once emancipate electors and candidates. We should give the first the strongest of motives for securing a direct representation of themselves in the Legislature, and we should give the elected a secure standing-place on which he could rely as long as he was true to himself and held the faith which animated his followers. Under such a scheme each large provincial town would be one constituency, and the elements of political life within it would be in living connection with the House of Commons. Difficulties such as those connected with the claims of labor to representation would disappear, and the Conservative member would not be in imminent peril, though he remained an obstinate Free-Fooder. Parliament would have all the variety and vigor of life. I do not enter into an exposition of the machinery of election, by which this real representation is effected. It has been proved over and over again to be very easily worked, and the experiment could be tried any winter evening by any set of men or women that liked to put it to the test. If we cross the narrow seas to Belgium we should find a system of proportional representation working there to the great satisfaction of all parties, who have found in it a solution of difficulties which at one time threatened the nation with anarchical convulsions.

Why do we not adopt some similar method here? The real objection is found in use and wont and the aversion of those who are "in" to entertain any suggestion of changes in the ways which they have found sufficient for themselves. But there are two pleas which are advanced in front of, and by way of covering, this real obstacle. The first is that members so independently elected are bound to be troublesome, unmanageable fellows. Experience does not support this apprehension. In our best days the strongest advocates of particular ideas were found to be thoroughly practical members of the House of Commons, and the forces of self-adjustment may be trusted to maintain a well-developed organization out of such elements. Parliamentary life has become smoother in Belgium, where Liberals and Socialists, once in mortal enmity, are able to co-operate together in common causes, and even members of the left wing of the Clerical parry line off in the way of amity towards men of other parties. The second plea is that the two-party system would be destroyed. The necessity of the two-party system is a postulate politicians are fond of assuming. I have noticed that Mr. Balfour often refers to it—not, indeed, as a thing proved, but as something which it is convenient to take for granted. He is a very clever man, and I am persuaded he has no settled conviction on the subject. If questioned he would give it the go-by, and he would probably evade discussion because in his moments of speculation he has seen how short of proof is the case for its The Monthly Bartow.

necessity. The Tadpoles and Taperswho have not probed things to the same depth doubtless feel a genuine apprehension of any danger that can touch the two-party system. They maybe comforted with the assurance that it is not easily destructible. It haa its roots in human nature, and the real question of public policy is whether it might not be to our advantage that the strictness of its discipline should be abated. Who can pretend that the process of dividing politicians into two camps and of drilling the men in each to think alike and speak alike over against the men of the other tends to the development of sincerity or assists in the apprehension of truth? The late Lord Carnarvon confessed one day that he had discovered with pain that the Conservative party was an organized hypocrisy. A cynic would remark that the discovery erred only In its limitation; and there is truth enough in the sneer to justify us in bidding the timid to be of good heart, even though the two-party system be broken down at its edges. After all, there is something in the large generalization that the way of freedom is the way of safety and not of peril. A reform which liberates the development of thought and of counsel among the citizens of a nation carries a recommendation in advance of itself.

Leonard Courtney.

THE VROUW GROBELAAR'S LEADING CASES. VASCO'S SWEETHEART.

"As to that," said the Vrouw Grobelaar, answering a point that no one had raised, "it has been seen over and over again that sin leaves its mark. Do you not trust or avoid a man because there is honor or wickedness in his face? Ah, men's faces are the writing

on the wall, and only the Belshazzars cannot read them.

"But the marks go deeper than a lowering brow or a cruel mouth. Men may die and leave behind them no monuments save their sin. Of such a case I remember one instance.

"Before my second husband was married to his first wife he lived out yonder, on the Portuguese border, and in the thick of the fever country. I have not seen the place, but it is badly spoken of for a desolate, uncbuncy land, bad for cattle, and only good to hunters. My second husband was a great hunter, and died, as you know, through having his body crushed by a lion. The people out there are not good Boer stock, but a wild and savage folk, with dark blood in them.

"I only know this story from my second husband, but it took hold of me, as he used to tell it. There was a family in those parts of the name of Preez. No relation to the Du Preez you know, who are well enough in their way, but Preez simply,—a short name and a bad one. They were big holders of land, with every reason to be rich, but bad farmers, lazy hunters, and deep drinkers. The Kaffirs down there make a drink out of fruit which is very fiery and conquers a man quickly, and these people were always to be seen half drunk, or else stupid from the stuff. Old Preez, the father, in particular, was a terrible man, by all tellings; full three score and ten years of age, but strong, fiery, and full of oaths. My second husband used to say there was something in the look of him that daunted one; for his hair and his beard were white, his face was savagely red, and his eyes were like hot coals. And with it all he had a way of looking on you that made you run from him. When he was down with drink and fever he would cry out in a terrible voice that his mother was a queen's daughter and he was a prince."

"I have heard of the people you speak of," I said. "They are halfPortuguese, and perhaps the old man was not wholly lying."

"Um! Well, prince or not, he married in his youth a woman of the halfblood, and begot of her a troop of

LITIKG T«L. XZTI. I860

devils. Five sons he had, all great men, knowing not God and fearing none of God's works. And after them came a daughter, a puling slip of a thing, never meant to live, whom they did to death among them with their drinking and blaspheming and fighting.

"My second husband told me tales of that family that set my blood freezing. He had his own way of telling stories, and made you see pictures, as it were. Once, he used to say, lor a trifle spoken concerning them and their ways, they visited a missionary by night, dragged him from his bed, and crucified him against his door, while his wife clung to the old man's knees and besought the mercy they never gave and never got. Even the wild folk of the country-side were stricken with the horror and impiety of the? deed; and it says much for the fear In which the Preez family were held that none molested them or called them to account.

"In the end the eldest of the five sons took a mind to marry and to leave some of his accursed stock to plague the world when it should be delivered from him and his brothers. They cast about for a wife for him, and were not content with the first that offered. They had their pride, the Preez, and in their place a fair measure of respect, for among the wicked, you know, the devil is king. From one farmhouse to another they rode, dragging forth women and girls to be looked at like cattle. Many a tall, black-browed hussy would have been content to go away with Vasco Preez (such was his unchristian name), but he was not willing to do right by any of them.

"They were returning home from one of these expeditions when they passed a lowly house beside the road with no fence around it. But before the house stood a girl on the grass, with her kapje in her hand, to see the six big men ride by. She was little and slim, and, unlike the maidens of the country, whitish, with a bunch of yellow hair on the top of her head and hanging over her ears. The others would have passed her by, judging her unworthy even an insult, but Vasco reined in his horse and shouted a great oath.

"'The woman for me!' he cried. 'The woman I was looking for! I never knew what I wanted before.'

"The others halted to look, and the girl, frightened, ran into the house. Vasco got down from his horse.

"'Fetch the filly out,' shouted the old man. 'Fetch her out and let us see her paces.'

"Vasco walked straight into the little house, while the others waited, laughing. They heard no screams and no fighting, and presently out comes Vasco alone.

"He went over to nis horse and mounted. 'There is nothing to wait for,' he said. 'Let us be getting on.'

"'But the girl?' cried one of his brothers. 'Is she dead, or what?'

"'No,' said Vasco, 'but she would not come.'

"'Would not come!' bellowed the old father, while the others laughed. 'Did you say she would not come?'

"'That is what I said,' answered Vasco, sitting his horse very straight, and scowling at the lot of them.

"'He has a fever,' cried the old man, looking from one to another. 'He is light in the head. My faith! I believe the girl has been beating him with a stick. Here, one of you,' he roared, turning on them, 'get down and kick the girl out of the door. We'll have a look at the witch!'

"Koos, the youngest, sprang from his saddle and made towards the house; but he was not gone five paces before Vasco spurred his horse onto him and knocked him down.

"'Keep off,' he said then, turning to

face them all, as Koos rose slowly. 'If I cannot bring the girl out none of you can, and you had better not try. Whoever does will be hurt, for I shall stand in front of the door.'

"And he went straight to the house, and, dismounting, stood in the doorway, with his hands resting on the beam above his head. He was a big man, and be filled the door.

"'Hear him,' foamed the old father. 'God, If I were as young as any of you, I would drag the girl across his body. Sons, he has defied us, and the girl has bewitched him. Itun at him, lads, and bring them both out!'

"They all came towards the house in a body, but stopped when Vasco raised his hand.

"'I warn you,' he told them—'I warn you to let the matter be. This will not be an affair of fighting, with only broken bones to mend when it is over. If I take hold of any one after this warning, that man will be cold before the sun sets. And to show you how useless this quarrel is, I will ask the girl once more if she will come out. You all saw her?'

"'Yes,' they answered; 'but what is this foolery about asking her?'

"'You saw her—very well.' He raised his voice and called into the house, 'Meisje, will you not come out? I ask you to.'

"There was silence for a moment, and then they heard the answer. 'No,' it said; 'I will stay where I am. Ami you are to go away.'

"'As soon as may be, my girl,' called Vasco in answer. 'Now,' he said to the men. 'you see she will not come.'

"'But, man, In the name of God, cast her over your shoulder and carry her out,' cried the father.

"Vasco looked at him. 'Not this one,' he said. 'She shall do as she pleases.'

"Then they rushed on him, but be stepped out from the door, and caught

« PreviousContinue »