"Our London Letter" The Norfolk News, May 18, 1872.
It was necessary to be at the House with great punctuality on Monday, in order to secure a seat, and by half-past four o'clock there was barely standing room. Lord Granville came in at about that time, hoping that perhaps he might be able to hear Mr. Gladstone before a quarter past five, the hour fixed for the Ministerial explanations in the House of Lords, and his lordship listened to Mr. Gladstone during the few moments he had to spare as attentively and as eagerly as if the announcement being made was as new to him as to the most absolute stranger. At about five minutes to five, an unusual commotion in the Peers Gallery betokened the approach of a very illustrious visitor, all the peers rising and moving out of their places. Presently the King of the Belgians appeared, accompanied by his secretary, and was conducted to the seat of honor [sic] over the clock. He is good-looking, black-bearded, and black-haired, not altogether unlike the gentleman for whom he has unfortunately been mistaken as will be explained in a little story which will be found a little further on. The patience of the House was somewhat tried by some tedious delays. First of all, there was a Commission in the House of Lords, that is to say, the Speaker was summoned to to the Upper House to hear the Royal Assent given to a number of Bills. Then there was a debate upon the affairs of the European Assurance Society. This struck me as a most peculiarly British and constitutional performance. All the world, one may say, was anxiously expecting some satisfaction for its anxiety on a question of profoundest importance. Four or five hundred deputies had been collected together to hear what was to be said about it, and no sooner do they assemble - telegraph, newspaper, King of the Belgians, England and America all waiting - than they fall to discussing a private Bill, and telegraph, newspaper, King of the Belgians, England and America, all have to wait till their High Mightinesses have decided a point about the employment of Lord Westbury as an arbitrator. This was not all, Mr. Whalley interposed to give notice of a question about the tattoo marks on the claimant of the Tichborne estates. Mr. Whalley's reputation as an orator and public singer is probably well known to most of my readers. He has latterly been altogether silent in the House, and, indeed, had not opened his lips this session until Monday.
It was scarcely fair, therefore, that he should be treated to such a reception of groans and ironical cheers. He may at one time have been a nuisance, but compared with Mr. Lowther, Mr. Bentinck, and others who have distinguished themselves on the Ballot Bill, he is as Joachim to a barrel organ. At last, the obstructions all being cleared away, Mr. Gladstone was enabled to make a beginning. He was received with much cheering from his friends, and at the very outset it was plain that their welcome would be justified. There was a kind of confident, joyful tone about the first few sentences which were a sure prophecy that something good was coming. The first thing he did was to give us a short simple history of the negociations [sic]. In this he was very precise and compressed, so much so in fact that I could not help thinking he was to some extent influenced by certain criticisms passed upon him by Mr. Bouverie a little while ago. Until he came to the critical point, there was not a single cheer, members being too absorbed to spend themselves in any sort of demonstration. But when he was able to announce that a definite proposal had been made by the Government to the Government of the United States, and that the proposal had been accepted by the President, there was much applause. Then commenced what was the weak portion of his speech, a series of compliments on the House, on the country, and on America, repeated two or three times over. The next morning when I came to read the paper, I found that they did not seem so wearisome as when I had to listen to them ; but in reading we glance over hastily sentence after sentence which by an audience is endured word by word. However on the whole, the House was well pleased, although, probably, if there had been general expression of opinion, that expreslations [sic] would be more justifiable if we were as sure of the Senate as of the President. Mr. Disraeli also was much cheered, but he had no particular part to play, and could do nothing but impress upon his friends the duty of further forbearance. He did not detain the House for more than two or three minutes, and there was then a rush to the door. It surely was cruelly ironical that the messengers in charge of the galleries should admit a number of strangers just as Mr. Disraeli had concluded. They had probably been waiting for hours, and the reward of their patience was a half empty House, the Ballot Bill, and Mr. Lowther - Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Disraeli, and the King of the Belgians having all departed.
A story is current which is worth repeating. Mr. Lowe, as most people know, is extremely near-sighted. The other evening he was at a party of some kind, and a gentleman saluted him with "Good evening, Mr. Lowe." Mr. Lowe put his nose to within an inch of his friend's face, responded by a sort of grunt and passed on. In a short time the gentleman again passed Mr. Lowe and said, "Good evening, Mr. Lowe; I do not think you recognise me." "Oh, yes I do," replied the other, "see too much of you down at the House." Pardon me, I am not in the habit of going to the House." "Nonsense, you're Mundella." "Oh dear no, I am not Mr. Mundella, I am the King of the Belgians!!" I am not much in the habit of telling stories, but having told one I am tempted to add another, which I beg to observe is not mere gossip but as authentic as an Act of Parliament. Mr. M., a worthy bore, most self-satisfied, most highly respectable, but greatly dreaded by the House for his long-windedness, had a motion on the paper. Suddenly it was withdrawn, and nobody knew why, as the mover was never yet known to lose an opportunity for inflicting himself upon the House. The mystery remained unexplained until one evening this week a member happened to ask Mr. M why the motion had disappeared. "Well you see," was the reply, "I was credibly and confidentially informed that if I persisted in it, it would be the cause of the greatest embarrassment to the Government, the Alabama claims not yet being settled, and so I thought it better to give way." The joke derives its flavor [sic] from the utter insignificance of Mr. M. and of his motion too. He had been the victim of a wicked hoax, which, however, may be pardoned for its happy result. He lives a long way from Norwich, so that I have no fear that he will be undeceived. Had I the least suspicion that he would see this column, the pleasure of raising a laugh would never have induced me to risk the chance of a Tuesday evening's delectation with him, caused by the re-insertion of his motion on the order-book.
Mr. Gathorne Hardy has been making a speech at Canterbury in which he enlarged much upon the division of the Liberal party. Nevertheless, he told his audience that he longed to see the time "when those who are moderate men in this country will say that it is not only their responsibility and their interests, but their positive duty to come out from those who are leading them they know not whither." Surely Mr. Disraeli will have the right to demand some explanation for this most remarkable utterance. Mr. Hardy has often been accused of bidding for the leadership, but this is about the most direct tender against his chief which he has yet put forth. Mr. Hardy, however, must cool his patriotic ardour. I should extremely like to be in the House with Mr. Hardy as Prime Minister, and Mr. Disraeli occupying a seat below the gangway. The Conservative party led by Mr. Hardy, with Mr. Disraeli in a state of independence, would be a sight never to be forgotten. One night of such a happy arrangement would probably satisfy the Premier for ever.
A SILENT MEMBER