The House Of Commons.
The face of Gladstone beamed with animation, sparkled with intelligence, glowed with fervor, and merited what Justin McCarthy said of it, that it was the most magnificent human face he ever saw. Disraeli's countenance, however, was as inscrutable as that of the Sphinx. Oriental in imagery, fertile of invention, rich in ridicule, master of invective, and the sovereign of sarcasm, he made replies to Gladstone which at times reminded me of the keen thrust of the matador to the charging bull; and some of his superlatively stinging phrases, as when he described his great opponent as "inebriated with his own verbosity," and as "a man without one redeeming fault," cut into a controversy like vitriol into human flesh. But, after all, no thoughtful and unprejudiced auditor could leave the House of Commons after such a duel in debate without a recognition of the Liberal's superiority.
Both of these leaders have now passed away. The thrilling, penetrating, and melodious tones which carried Gladstone's noble periods to his hearers, as the great trade winds sweep on full-sailed ships to their desired havens, are now hushed forever; and the low, vibrant voice of Beaconsfield, cutting the eager stillness of the rapt House, like the sword of Saladin, has likewise passed into the silence of the tomb. But none who ever heard them can forget them; and as he looks upon the places which those men once occupied when they in turn were Premiers of England, no other figures will suggest themselves so readily to his memory and imagination as those of the great Hebrew novelist, who gave to Queen Victoria the title Empress of India, and the grand orator, statesman, scholar, theologian, linguist, and literary critic, William Ewart Gladstone.
Strangely enough, this dwelling-place of the real power of the British Empire occupies the identical ground where, in the days when England's sovereign could say, with almost as much truth as Louis XIV., "I am the State," stood an abode of royalty. Accordingly, this memorable site, which was the home of kings, is now the home of the British people, as represented in the persons of those chosen for their lawmakers.
The Parliament of Great Britain is not a gift, but a growth; not a boon granted by a generous ruler, but a development by the people, often unconscious of their work, and building better than they knew. Nor was it the invention of one individual, or of a conference deliberately appointed for the task. Its seed, apparently congenital with the Anglo-Saxon race, germinated as far back as the thirteenth century, and bore its first fruit in Magna Charta.
Standing on this historic site, it is a suggestive thought to an American or Englishman that only the Anglo-Saxon has succeeded in giving to the idea of democracy permanent growth. The Greeks and Romans founded what they called "republics"; but they were, really, nothing more than oligarchies; and when the dwellers by the Tiber rose, at last, against the steadily increasing power of a ruling class, it was too late; for out of popular disorders had arisen Imperialism, which, though it reigned for centuries in splendor, was a distinctively backward step, and ended, finally, in ruin. More than a thousand years later, the mad revolt of the French people revived the democratic idea, but they soon drowned it in their own best blood, and mankind saw another Latin race slide backward into Cassarism. In the political evolution of the Anglo-Saxon, however, there has been no serious retrogression in the evolution of democracy. Far back in primitive Saxon days the whole tribe held a General Meeting to declare its will. A little later came the Council of the Wise Men, which marked a distinct advance beyond the general tribal gathering, and was the unsuspected embryo of the present system of representation. Still later, the political genius that had planned this for a single tribe, made the arrangement intertribal, and in cooperative action against outside foes furnished the germ of the modern idea of national federation. At present both England and America are really working toward the same ends on parallel lines; and since the separation of mother and child, in 1776, Great Britain has been developing the democratic idea almost as rapidly as the United States. Perhaps the greater reverence felt by Englishmen for conservative forms has kept the elder nation from a few extreme ideas that we shall yet discard, and, possibly, we may hereafter view with more appreciation the splendidly progressive yet conservative way in which Great Britain has contrived to build the ever-broadening power of the people, without, however, trampling under foot some precious privileges born from the antecedent travail of mankind.