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Lord George Bentinck was very anxious that there should be a parliamentary summary of this enormous and eventful session of ‘48, that the conduct of business by the ministry should be traced and criticized and the character of the House of Commons vindicated, and he appealed to the writer of these observations to undertake the task. But the writer was unwilling to accede to this suggestion, not only because at the end of August he shrank from a laborious effort, but principally because he did not hold that his position in the House of Commons warranted on his part such an interference, since, after all, he was only the comrade in arms of one who chose to be only an independent member of the House. He therefore unaffectedly stated that he thought the office was somewhat above his measure. But Lord George Bentinck would not listen to these representations. ‘I don’t pretend to know much,’ he said, ‘but I can judge of men and horses.’ It is difficult to refuse those who are themselves setting a constant example of self-sacrifice, and therefore, so far as the labour was concerned, the writer would not have shrunk from the exertion even on the last day of the month of August, and when the particular wish of Lord George was found to be more general than the writer presumed to suppose, he accordingly endeavoured to accomplish the intention.

CHAPTER VIII. The Versatility of Lord George Bentinck

This strange interlude occurred after midnight on the 26th of March. On Friday, the 27th, the House divided on the amendment of Mr. Eliot Yorke, and the Corn Bill was read for the second time. On the reassembling of the House on Monday, the 30th, an extraordinary scene took place.

‘You do not know what the Derby is,’ he moaned out.

Lord George had withdrawn his support from the government of the Duke of Wellington, when the friends of Mr. Canning quitted that administration; and when in time they formed not the least considerable portion of the cabinet of Lord Grey, he resumed his seat on the ministerial benches. On that occasion an administrative post was offered him and declined; and on subsequent occasions similar requests to him to take office were equally in vain. Lord George, therefore, was an original and hearty supporter of the Reform Bill, and he continued to uphold the Whigs in all their policy until the secession of Lord Stanley, between whom and himself there subsisted warm personal as well as political sympathies. Although he was not only a friend to religious liberty, as we shall have occasion afterwards to remark, but always viewed with great sympathy the condition of the Roman Catholic portion of the Irish population, he shrank from the taint of the ultra-montane intrigue. Accompanying Lord Stanley, he became in due time a member of the great Conservative opposition, and, as he never did anything by halves, became one of the most earnest, as he certainly was one of the most enlightened, supporters of Sir Robert Peel. His trust in that minister was indeed absolute, and he has subsequently stated in conversation that when, towards the end of the session of ‘45, a member of the Tory party ventured to predict and denounce the impending defection of the minister, there was no member of the Conservative party who more violently condemned the unfounded attack, or more readily impugned the motives of the assailant.

CHAPTER II. The Protection Problem

The cause of the weakness in Ireland to prosecute these undertakings was the total want of domestic capital for the purpose, and the unwillingness of English capitalists to embark their funds in a country whose social and political condition they viewed with distrust, however promising and even profitable the investment might otherwise appear. This was remarkably illustrated by the instance of the Great Southern and Western Railway of Ireland, one of the undertakings of which the completion was arrested by want of funds, yet partially open. Compared with a well-known railway in Great Britain, the Irish railway had cost in its construction ?£15,000 per mile, and the British upwards of ?£26,000 per mile; the weekly traffic on the two railways, allowing for some difference in their extent, was about the same on both, in amount varying from ?£1,000 to ?£1,300 per week; yet the unfinished British railway was at ?£40 premium in the market, and the incomplete Irish railway at ?£2 discount. It was clear, therefore, that the commercial principle, omnipotent in England, was not competent to cope with the peculiar circumstances of Ireland.

After a wild dream of famine and fever, imperial loans, rates in aid, jobbing public works, confiscated estates, constituencies self-disfranchised, and St. Peter’s bearding St. James’s in a spirit becoming Christendom rather than Europe, time topped the climax of Irish misgovernment; and by the publication of the census of 1851, proved that the millions with whose evils no statesmen would sincerely deal, but whose condition had been the pretext for so much empiricism, had disappeared, and nature, more powerful than politicians, had settled the ‘great difficulty.’


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