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Sketches in Parliament

The Illustrated London News, vol. 46, no. 1313, p. 430.

May 6, 1865

SKETCHES IN PARLIAMENT.

...It so happened that the moving of the address to the Crown expressing the opinion of Parliament with regard to the murder of the President of the United States was concluded in the Commons before it commenced in the Lords; so that a very slight increase of activity enabled any who chose, and had the privilege, to be a witness to both ceremonials. There was this disadvantage, however, that the proceedings in the Upper House were dimmed and dulled by contrast. In any case, however, and without the drawback of comparison, every spectator must have been sensible of utter failure. In that large gilded and many-hued chamber Earl Russell's voice is painfully inadequate to the area which it ought to fill; and when he appears, as he does during half his speeches, to most of those who are striving to listen to him, to be going through an operation akin to that by means of which intercommuncation is held with the deaf-and-dumb, the effect is indescribable. This time, what was heard was characteristic of that cold, hard, unsympathising style out of which he never has been roused, except in a few cases when his personal ambition has been involved or his personal vanity wounded. What need was there of a long dissertation on questions of policy, actual and tentative, and of half-insinuated political distrust, when the subject was the denunciation of a great crime? But why dwell on this painful failure when one has to speak of one still more conspicuous and, moreover, most surprising? What evil influence came over Lord Derby's spirit at such a moment, when the springs of his naturally generous heart should have been overflowing? Was it that an unconscious distaste for his task lurked in his mind? For unless that were so there can be no accounting for the bad tone, the mistakes in illustration, the absence of spontaneity in the right, and its intrusive presence in the wrong, places, even for the deficiency of eloquence, which he displayed. In fact, it seemed as if he looked at the act which he was called on to denounce purely in its political and not in the least in its personal phase, and was doing violence to his political proclivities in condemning it. Any way, he never has appeared to less advantage; and it were as well if the whole proceeding in the Peers' had never occurred, for all its appropriateness to the occasion.

It is quite certain that if Lord Palmerston had been able to perform the function of condolence in the Commons, that it would have been done correctly--with tact and with due, if without pronounced, effect. As senior Secretary of State, the deputy-leadership was for the nonce with Sir George Grey; and in a certain sense he was successful, although in another sense he could hardly have been considered so. If he was wanting in the dignity, the measured solemnity, which was fitting to such an exposition of the feelings of the House and of the nation, he was abundantly earnest, emotional, and almost impassioned; so that though his speech was here and there faulty, and as a whole not particularly well constructed or conceived, he was manifestly real, and what he said came direct from his feeling; and even in such an assembly as the House of Commons genuineness is not always unacceptable. In marked contrast to Sir George's address was that of Mr. Disraeli. In its conception and arrangement, in delicate touches, in happy illustrations, and in its whole spirit, it was admirable--indubitably the very best thing of the kind he has ever produced; but the manner, the voice, the pose, the gesture were all so artificial, that the mind of the listener was inevitably awakened to the palpable evidences of elaborate preparation in the speech itself, which, had it been uttered naturally and simply, would have been an oratorical triumph of no mean order; but, after all, it seemed to spring from impulses and feelings so creditable and so sympathetic that, with as much surprise as pleasure, the universal House applauded it with cheers the ring of which was of the true kind, and which must have been peculiarly agreeable to Mr. Disraeli, than whom no one could better understand their quality....

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