Too Long; Didn't ReadBefore the 11th of November, the day on which Parliament was to meet, the whole country was in a hubbub. Consternation and triumph were perhaps equally predominant, and equally strong. There were those who declared that now at length was Great Britain to be ruined in actual present truth; and those who asserted that, of a sudden, after a fashion so wholly unexpected as to be divine,—as great fires, great famines, and great wars are called divine,—a mighty hand had been stretched out to take away the remaining incubus of superstition, priestcraft, and bigotry under which England had hitherto been labouring. The proposed disestablishment of the State Church of England was, of course, the subject of this diversity of opinion.
And there was not only diversity, but with it great confusion. The political feelings of the country are, as a rule, so well marked that it is easy, as to almost every question, to separate the sheep from the goats. With but few exceptions one can tell where to look for the supporters and where for the opponents of one measure or of another. Meetings are called in this or in that public hall to assist or to combat the Minister of the day, and men know what they are about. But now it was not so. It was understood that Mr. Daubeny, the accredited leader of the Conservatives, was about to bring in the bill, but no one as yet knew who would support the bill. His own party, to a man,—without a single exception,—were certainly opposed to the measure in their minds. It must be so. It could not but be certain that they should hate it. Each individual sitting on the Conservative side in either House did most certainly within his own bosom cry Ichabod when the fatal news reached his ears. But such private opinions and inward wailings need not, and probably would not, guide the body. Ichabod had been cried before, though probably never with such intensity of feeling. Disestablishment might be worse than Free Trade or Household Suffrage, but was not more absolutely opposed to Conservative convictions than had been those great measures. And yet the party, as a party, had swallowed them both. To the first and lesser evil, a compact little body of staunch Commoners had stood forth in opposition,—but nothing had come of it to those true Britons beyond a feeling of living in the cold shade of exclusion. When the greater evil arrived, that of Household Suffrage,—a measure which twenty years since would hardly have been advocated by the advanced Liberals of the day,—the Conservatives had learned to acknowledge the folly of clinging to their own convictions, and had swallowed the dose without serious disruption of their ranks. Every man,—with but an exception or two,—took the measure up, some with faces so singularly distorted as to create true pity, some with an assumption of indifference, some with affected glee. But in the double process the party had become used to this mode of carrying on the public service. As poor old England must go to the dogs, as the doom had been pronounced against the country that it should be ruled by the folly of the many foolish, and not by the wisdom of the few wise, why should the few wise remain out in the cold,—seeing, as they did, that by so doing no good would be done to the country? Dissensions among their foes did, when properly used, give them power,—but such power they could only use by carrying measures which they themselves believed to be ruinous. But the ruin would be as certain should they abstain. Each individual might have gloried in standing aloof,—in hiding his face beneath his toga, and in remembering that Rome did once exist in her splendour. But a party cannot afford to hide its face in its toga. A party has to be practical. A party can only live by having its share of Garters, lord-lieutenants, bishops, and attorney-generals. Though the country were ruined, the party should be supported. Hitherto the party had been supported, and had latterly enjoyed almost its share of stars and Garters,—thanks to the individual skill and strategy of that great English political Von Moltke Mr. Daubeny.