Page:Modern Parliamentary Eloquence.djvu/17

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Modern Parliamentary Eloquence

dawn. The speakers wore breeches and silk stockings; their heads were powdered or wigged; the blue riband of the Garter crossed their breasts. A sitting of the House partook almost of the nature of a Court ceremonial.[1] No reverberations from the democracy (which did not exist) penetrated the comparatively small and secluded chamber, no importunities from constituents, no calls to public platforms, no engagements in Committee rooms or on the Terrace, no sharp reminders from caucuses or agents, disturbed the stately equanimity of their proceedings. They spoke as they dressed, and moved, and I may add, drank, with a fine profusion, and in the grand style. In fact, apart from political differences, which, in days of universal place-hunting and corruption, were probably more acrimonious than at the present time, the governing class in both Houses of Parliament constituted a social caste, banded together by ties of common interest and mutual admiration. They dissected, criticised, and applauded each other's speeches. The leisure hours of those who possessed literary qualifications were often devoted to writing about each other's attainments. The dramatic displays of the great protagonists were always assured of a rapt audience and a befitting arena, for the simple reason that the number of those who could speak was limited, and that the remainder were content to furnish an inarticulate claque in the background. Lord John Russell used to say that there were a dozen men in the days of Fox and Pitt who could make a better speech than anyone living in his time, but that there was not another man in the House who could even understand what they were talking about.

  1. There is an interesting passage in "Endymion," cap. 76, in which Sir Fraunceys Scoope believed to have been drawn from Sir Francis Burdett describes to the young M.P. (circ. 1842) the conditions of the House of Commons as they were in the days of Pitt and Fox. There was rarely a regular debate, and never a party division up till Easter, and very few people came up. After Easter there was always one great party fight, which was talked of for weeks in advance. After this, for the rest of the Session, the House was a mere club, to which members came down in evening dress. So late as the time of Canning they appeared in silk stockings and knee breeches or pantaloons.