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Chapter XXIV
farewell to Parliament

London, Thursday, May 19th, 1898. Presided at Sir Alfred Lyall's lecture, on “Chartered companies and Colonization,” before the Society of Arts.

I have always a feeling, when observing an audience in England, that the people who appear to be listening are engaged upon their own particular thoughts. I have sometimes said to myself, “Life with such people is not an earnest affair. They have come, out of sheer amiability, or to tide over an idle hour. They mechanically smile, and do not mind languidly applauding when someone warns them it is time to do so.”

In my remarks at the close of Sir Alfred Lyall's lecture, I took the opportunity of comparing the French doings at the end of the eighteenth century with those at the end of the nineteenth century, and predicted that when the French appeared on the White Nile, England would have to speak in no uncertain voice to France, or all our toils and expense, since 1882, in Egypt and the Soudan, would have to be considered wasted.

My earnest words roused our friends a little; then Lord Brassey, a typical Gladstonite, thinking I might lead them over to France, instanter, poured cold water upon the heat and said, “ You know it is only Mr. Stanley's way; he is always combative! ”

Poor, dear old England! How she is bothered with sentimentalists and cranks! South Africa is almost lost, because no Englishman in office dares to say “Stop! That is England's.” Yet, if Kruger eventually succeeds, our sea route to India, Australia, and the Isles of the Indian Ocean, will soon be closed.

If the French establish themselves on the White Nile, they will ally themselves with the Abyssinians, and soon find a way of re-arming the Mahdists; and it would not be long then [502] before we should be driven out of Egypt, and clean away from the Suez Canal. Well, and then?

But what is the use? A cold water speech from Lord Brassey quenches, or appears to, any little patriotic ardour that our Society Englishmen confess to having felt. If these people were to be consulted, they would vote for making England as small as she was in the pre-Alfred days, on condition they were not to be agitated.

November 1st, 1898. Am gradually gaining strength after the illness which began in the South of France, August 15th.

The long weeks in bed have given me abundant time for thought, and I have decided that the time has come for me to seek my long-desired rest. It has become clearer to me, each day, that I am too old to change my open-air habits for the asphyxiating atmosphere of the House of Commons.

Consequent upon this Parliamentary life are the various petty businesses of the Constituency I represent; and a wearying correspondence with hundreds of people I am unacquainted with, but who insist on receiving replies. This correspondence, alone, entails a good three-hours' work each day. The demands of the Constituents consume, on an average, another two hours. The House opens at 3 P. M., and business continues to any hour between midnight and 3 A. M. It is therefore impossible to obtain air or exercise.

Long ago the House of Commons had lost its charm for me. It does not approach my conception of it. Its business is conducted in a shilly-shally manner, which makes one groan at the waste of life. It is said to begin at 3 P. M. Prayers are over at 3.10, but for the following twenty minutes we twiddle our fingers; and then commence Questions, which last over an hour. These questions are mainly from the Irish Party, and of no earthly interest to anyone except themselves; but even if they were, the Answers might be printed just as the Questions are; that would save an hour for the business of debate. A Member soon learns how wearying is debate. Out of six hundred and seventy members, some twenty of them have taken it upon themselves, with the encouragement and permission of the Speaker, to debate on every matter connected with the Empire, and after we have heard their voices some [503] fifty times, however interesting their subjects may be, it naturally becomes very monotonous.

Chamberlain, however, is always interesting, because there is a method with him to get to his subject at once, and to deal with it in a lucid, straightforward manner, and have done with it. This is what we all feel, and therefore he is never tedious. Also, every speech Chamberlain delivers is different, and his manner varies; sometimes it is quite exciting, a mere steady look, suggestive of we know not what, gives the cue; sometimes it is only a false alarm; but often we have intense moments, when every word penetrates, and rouses general enlivenment.

Others on the Front Benches are not very interesting in speech or matter, excepting, occasionally, on army or naval questions.

I could name a dozen others who are too often allowed to afflict us on the Unionist side, but the speakers on the Opposition side are permitted even greater loquacity, and they really are terrible bores. Outside the House they are mostly all good fellows, but in the House they have no sense of proportion, and one and all take themselves too seriously. Some of them, I wish, could be sent to the Clock-Tower, where they could wrangle with Big Ben to their hearts' content. Others would be more esteemed if they were fettered to their seats and had their own lips locked, while a few are so bad that they should be sealed tight during the Session. At any rate, it is clearly no place for me.

The House was very full, four hundred and thirteen Members voted; and, of course, the war with the Transvaal was in every mind, and on every lip. All are agreed that Kruger's Ultimatum has been specially fortunate for the Government; for it has been easy to discover that, but for this hot-headed outburst of the Transvaal Government, the general distaste for violent and strong measures would have severely strained the loyalty of the Government's supporters, so much so, I think, that I doubt whether the majority would have been so great as to encourage the Government to formulate the demands which the necessity of the case required.

While listening to the remarks I heard on all sides of me in the Smoking-room, it appeared to me that the saying that [504] “those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad,” was never so true as in this curious lapse of a Government that, suddenly, and for a trifle, throws all restraint aside, and becomes possessed of the most reckless fury. In his secret heart no Member, but thinks, after his own fashion, that it has been due to an interposition of Providence, Fate, Destiny, call it what name you like. I gather so much from the many ways the Members express their astonishment at Kruger throwing down the gauntlet, ending the discussion, and plunging into war.

It has been a long duel between the Colonial Office and Krugerism; successive Secretaries of State, since 1881, have tried their best to get the vantage over the old Dutchman, and have either failed miserably, or have just been able to save their faces; but Chamberlain, after four years of ups and downs, at one time almost in disgrace, being most unfairly suspected of abetting the Raid, and always verging on failure, comes out of the duel with flying colours, through the intractable old Dutchman tiring of the long, wordy contest.

The Irish have not been so violent as we expected they intended to be. We heard of a wish to be suspended; but, on the whole, they have been tame: though Willie Redmond did not spare Chamberlain.

Campbell-Bannerman spoke with two voices; in the first half of his speech he talked like an English patriot, in the latter half he seemed to have reminded himself that he was the Leader of the Opposition, and showed ill-nature. Harcourt spoke this afternoon, long but without much force. In fact, the strings of the Opposition have been rendered inutile by Kruger's Ultimatum to England, and the Boer invasion. The fact that we are at war checks everybody, and disarms them.

July 26th, 1900. To-day has been my last sitting in Parliament, for I have paired for the remainder of the Session, and Dissolution is very probable in September or October.

I would not stand again for much!

I have never been quite free, after I understood the Parliamentary machine, from a feeling that it degraded me somewhat to be in Parliament.

I have, as a Member, less influence than the man in the street. On questions concerning Africa, Dilke, or some other [505] wholly unacquainted with Africa, would be called upon to speak before me. I have far less influence than any writer in a daily newspaper; for he can make his living presence in the world felt, and, possibly, have some influence for good: whereas I, in common with other respectable fellows, are like dumb dogs. Yet I have, nay we all have, had to pay heavily for the hustling we get in the House. The mention of our names in the Press draws upon us scores of begging letters, and impertinent door-to-door beggars, who, sometimes, by sheer impudence, effect an entrance into our houses. The correspondence postage alone is a heavy tax, and would make a handsome provision for a large family during the year. The expenses incident to Parliamentary candidature and Parliamentary life are very heavy, and, in my opinion, it is disgraceful that a Member should be called upon to subscribe to every church, chapel, sport, bazaar, sale, etc., in his Constituency. But, while I do not grieve so much for the stupid expense, I do begrudge the items which remind me of the annoying begging and the insolent importunity, that impressed me with the worthlessness of the honour of being a Parliamentary representative. Then, when I think of the uselessness of the expense, the labour of replying to the daily correspondence, the time wasted in it all, the late hours, the deadly air, the gradual deterioration of health, I wonder that anyone in his sober senses should consent to bother himself about a Parliamentary machine controlled as is this of ours. Any illusions that I may have had, illusions that I could serve the Empire, advance Africa's interests, benefit this country, were quickly dispelled. The Speaker's eye could not be caught; he would call on some glib talker, who really knew very little of his subject; and, in this respect, also, I felt there was some degradation for me, sitting there, to listen to such futilities.

Individually, I repeat, the Members are the best of good fellows in the Smoking-room; but Parliamentary procedure needs revising, and less opportunity should be given to those who talk only for talking's sake. Anyhow, I am glad at the prospect of retiring, and being quit of it all.

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