Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 709
Publication Date: 1874
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His beloved wife having died in childbirth, Phineas Finn finds Irish society and his job as a Poorhouse Inspector dull and unsatisfying after the excitement of his former career as a Member of Parliament. Back in England, the Whigs are determined to overturn the Tory majority in Parliament. As Finn had been considered the most promising of the younger set, he is encouraged to stand for parliament again. This is the fourth of the 'Palliser' series of novels and the sequel to the second book of the series, Phineas Finn.
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The circumstances of the general election of 18— will be well remembered by all those who take an interest in the political matters of the country. There had been a coming in and a going out of Ministers previous to that,—somewhat rapid, very exciting, and, upon the whole, useful as showing the real feeling of the country upon sundry questions of public interest. Mr. Gresham had been Prime Minister of England, as representative of the Liberal party in politics. There had come to be a split among those who should have been his followers on the terribly vexed question of the Ballot. Then Mr. Daubeny for twelve months had sat upon the throne distributing the good things of the Crown amidst Conservative birdlings, with beaks wide open and craving maws, who certainly for some years previous had not received their share of State honours or State emoluments. And Mr. Daubeny was still so sitting, to the infinite dismay of the Liberals, every man of whom felt that his party was entitled by numerical strength to keep the management of the Government within its own hands.
Let a man be of what side he may in politics,—unless he be much more of a partisan than a patriot,—he will think it well that there should be some equity of division in the bestowal of crumbs of comfort. Can even any old Whig wish that every Lord Lieutenant of a county should be an old Whig? Can it be good for the administration of the law that none but Liberal lawyers should become Attorney-Generals, and from thence Chief Justices or Lords of Appeal? Should no Conservative Peer ever represent the majesty of England in India, in Canada, or at St. Petersburgh? So arguing, moderate Liberals had been glad to give Mr. Daubeny and his merry men a chance. Mr. Daubeny and his merry men had not neglected the chance given them. Fortune favoured them, and they made their hay while the sun shone with an energy that had never been surpassed, improving upon Fortune, till their natural enemies waxed impatient. There had been as yet but one year of it, and the natural enemies, who had at first expressed themselves as glad that the turn had come, might have endured the period of spoliation with more equanimity. For to them, the Liberals, this cutting up of the Whitehall cake by the Conservatives was spoliation when the privilege of cutting was found to have so much exceeded what had been expected. Were not they, the Liberals, the real representatives of the people, and, therefore, did not the cake in truth appertain to them? Had not they given up the cake for a while, partly, indeed, through idleness and mismanagement, and quarrelling among themselves; but mainly with a feeling that a moderate slicing on the other side would, upon the whole, be advantageous? But when the cake came to be mauled like that—oh, heavens! So the men who had quarrelled agreed to quarrel no more, and it was decided that there should be an end of mismanagement and idleness, and that this horrid sight of the weak pretending to be strong, or the weak receiving the reward of strength, should be brought to an end. Then came a great fight, in the last agonies of which the cake was sliced manfully. All the world knew how the fight would go; but in the meantime lord-lieutenancies were arranged; very ancient judges retired upon pensions; vice-royal Governors were sent out in the last gasp of the failing battle; great places were filled by tens, and little places by twenties; private secretaries were established here and there; and the hay was still made even after the sun had gone down.
In consequence of all this the circumstances of the election of 18— were peculiar. Mr. Daubeny had dissolved the House, not probably with any idea that he could thus retrieve his fortunes, but feeling that in doing so he was occupying the last normal position of a properly-fought Constitutional battle. His enemies were resolved, more firmly than they were resolved before, to knock him altogether on the head at the general election which he had himself called into existence. He had been disgracefully out-voted in the House of Commons on various subjects. On the last occasion he had gone into his lobby with a minority of 37, upon a motion brought forward by Mr. Palliser, the late Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer, respecting decimal coinage. No politician, not even Mr. Palliser himself, had expected that he would carry his Bill in the present session. It was brought forward as a trial of strength; and for such a purpose decimal coinage was as good a subject as any other. It was Mr. Palliser's hobby, and he was gratified at having this further opportunity of ventilating it. When in power, he had not succeeded in carrying his measure, awed, and at last absolutely beaten, by the infinite difficulty encountered in arranging its details. But his mind was still set upon it, and it was allowed by the whole party to be as good as anything else for the purpose then required. The Conservative Government was beaten for the third or fourth time, and Mr. Daubeny dissolved the House.
The whole world said that he might as well have resigned at once. It was already the end of July, and there must be an autumn Session with the new members. It was known to be impossible that he should find himself supported by a majority after a fresh election. He had been treated with manifest forbearance; the cake had been left in his hands for twelve months; the House was barely two years old; he had no "cry" with which to meet the country; the dissolution was factious, dishonest, and unconstitutional. So said all the Liberals, and it was deduced also that the Conservatives were in their hearts as angry as were their opponents. What was to be gained but the poor interval of three months? There were clever men who suggested that Mr. Daubeny had a scheme in his head—some sharp trick of political conjuring, some "hocus-pocus presto" sleight of hand, by which he might be able to retain power, let the elections go as they would. But, if so, he certainly did not make his scheme known to his own party.