« PreviousContinue »
good and for evil ? Are they not out of the current of common European causes and affairs ? Are they not a race contemptuous of others ? Are they not a race with no special education or culture as to the modern world, and too often despising such culture? Who could expect such a people to comprehend the new and strange events of foreign places ? So far from wondering that the English Parliament has been inefficient in foreign policy, I think it is wonderful, and another sign of the rude, vague imagination that is at the bottom of our people, that we have done so well as we have.
Again, the very conception of the English Constitution, as distinguished from a purely Parliamentary constitution is, that it contains “dignified” parts—parts, that is, retained, not for intrinsic use, but from their imaginative attraction upon an uncultured and rude population. All such elements tend to diminish simple efficiency. They are like the additional and solely-ornamental wheels introduced into the clocks of the Middle Ages, which tell the then age of the moon or the supreme constellation ;-which make little men or birds come out and in theatrically. All such ornamental work is a source of friction and error; it prevents the time being marked accurately; each new wheel is a new source of imperfection. So if authority is given to a person, not on account of his working fitness, but on account of his imaginative efficiency, he will commonly impair good administration. He may do something better than good work of detail, but will spoil good work of detail. The English aristocracy is often of this sort. It has an influence over the people of vast value still, and of infinite value forinerly. But no man would select the cadets of an aristocratic house as desirable administrators. They have peculiar disadvantages in the acquisition of business knowledge, business training, and business habits, and they have no peculiar advantages.
Our middle class, too, is very unfit to give us the administrators we ought to have. I cannot now discuss whether all that is said against our education is well grounded; it is called by an excellent judge "pretentious, insufficient, and unsound.” But I will say that it does not fit men to be men of business as it ought to fit them. Till lately the very simple attainments and habits necessary for a banker's clerk had a scarcityvalue. The sort of education which fits a man for the higher posts of practical life is still very rare; there is not even a good agreement as to what it is. Our public officers cannot be as good as the corresponding officers of some foreign nations till our business education is as good as theirs.*
But strong as is our ignorance in deteriorating our administration, another cause is stronger still. There are but two foreign administrations probably better than ours, and both these have had something which we have not had. Theirs in both cases were arranged by a man of genius, after careful forethought, and upon a special design. Napoleon built upon a clear stage which the French Revolution bequeathed him. The originality once ascribed to his edifice was indeed untrue; Tocqueville and Lavergne have shown that he did but run up a conspicuous structure in imitation of a latent one before concealed by the mediæval complexities of the old régime. But what we are concerned with now is, not Napoleon's originality, but his work. He undoubtedly settled the administration of France upon an effective, consistent, and enduring system; the succeeding governments have but worked the mechanism they inherited from him. Frederick the Great did the same in the new monarchy of Prussia. Both the French system and the Prussian are new machines, made in civilised times to do their appropriate work.
* I am happy to state that this evil is much diminishing. The im. provement of school education of the middle class in the last twenty-five years is marvellous.
The English offices have never, since they were made, been arranged with any reference to one another; or rather they were never made, but grew as each could. The sort of free trade which prevailed in public institutions in the English middle ages is very curious. Our three courts of law—the Queen's Bench, the Common Pleas, and the Exchequer—for the sake of the fees extended an originally contracted sphere into the entire sphere of litigation. Boni judicis est ampliare jurisdictionem, went the old saying; or, in English, “It is the mark of a good judge to augment the fees of his Court,” his own income, and the income of his subordinates. The central administration, the Treasury, never asked any account of the moneys the courts thus received; so long as it was not asked to pay anything, it was satisfied. Only last year one of the many remnants of this system cropped up, to the wonder of the public. A clerk in the Patent Office stole some fees, and naturally the men of the nineteenth century thought our principal finance minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would be, as in France, responsible for it. But the English law was different somehow. The Patent Office was under the Lord Chancellor, and the Court of Chancery is one of the multitude of our institutions which owe their existence to free competition and so it was the Lord Chancellor's business to look after the fees, which of course, as an occupied judge, he could not. A certain Act of Parliament did indeed require that the fees of the Patent Office should be paid into the "Exchequer;” and, again, the “Chancellor of the Exchequer” was thought to be responsible in the matter, but only by those who did not know. According to our system the Chancellor of the Exchequer is the enemy of the Exchequer; a whole series of enactments try to protect it from him. Until a few months ago there was a very lucrative sinecure called the “ Comptrollership of the Exchequer,” designed to guard the Exchequer against its Chancellor; and the last holder, Lord Monteagle, used to say he was the pivot of the English Constitution. I have not room to explain what he meant, and it is not needful; what is to the purpose is that, by an inherited series of historical complexities, a defaulting clerk in an office of no litigation was not under natural authority, the finance minister, but under a far-away judge who had never heard of him.
The whole office of the Lord Chancellor is a heap of anomalies. He is a judge, and it is contrary to obvious
principle that any part of administration should be entrusted to a judge; it is of very grave moment that the administration of justice should be kept clear of any sinister temptations. Yet the Lord Chancellor, our chief judge, sits in the Cabinet, and makes party speeches in the Lords. Lord Lyndhurst was a principal Tory politician, and yet he presided in the O'Connell case. Lord Westbury was in chronic wrangle with the bishops, but he gave judgment upon “Essays and Reviews.” In truth, the Lord Chancellor became a Cabinet Minister, because, being near the person of the sovereign, he was high in court precedence, and not upon a political theory wrong or right.
A friend once told me that an intelligent Italian asked him about the principal English officers, and that he was very puzzled to explain their duties, and especially to explain the relation of their duties to their titles. I do not remember all the cases, but I can recollect that the Italian could not comprehend why the First “Lord of the Treasury” had as a rule nothing to do with the Treasury, or why the “Woods and Forests” looked after the sewerage of towns. This conversation was years before the cattle plague, but I should like to have heard the reasons why the Privy Council Office had charge of that malady. Of course one could give an historical reason, but I mean an administrative reason—a reason which would show, not how it came to have the duty, but why in future it should keep it.
But the unsystematic and casual arrangement of our public offices is not more striking than their difference of