Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Pendulum Swings

A friend of mine is reading Anthony Trollope's The Way We Live Now (1875), and sent this with a remark that "The beginning of this chapter echoes, as Mark Twain said about history."

And indeed it does. (Note: "The Ballot" refers to Reform Act of 1867, an extension of the franchise which effectively gave the vote to working class men.)



The Conservative party at this particular period was putting its shoulder to the wheel,--not to push the coach up any hill, but to prevent its being hurried along at a pace which was not only
dangerous, but manifestly destructive. The Conservative party now and then does put its shoulder to the wheel, ostensibly with the great national object above named; but also actuated by a natural desire to keep its own head well above water and be generally doing something, so that other parties may not suppose that it is moribund. There are, no doubt, members of it who really think that when some object has been achieved,--when, for instance, a good old Tory has been squeezed into Parliament for the borough of Porcorum, which for the last three
parliaments has been represented by a Liberal,--the coach has been really stopped. To them, in their delightful faith, there comes at these triumphant moments a conviction that after all the people as a people have not been really in earnest in their efforts to take something from the greatness of the great, and to add something to the lowliness of the lowly. The handle of the windlass has been broken, the wheel is turning fast the reverse way, and the rope of Radical progress is running back. Who knows what may not be regained if the Conservative party will only put its shoulder to the wheel and take care that the handle of the windlass be not mended! Sticinthemud, which has ever been a doubtful little borough, has just been carried by a majority of fifteen! A long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether,--and the old day will come back again. Venerable patriarchs think of Lord Liverpool and other heroes, and dream dreams of Conservative bishops, Conservative lord-lieutenants, and of a Conservative ministry that shall remain in for a generation.

Such a time was now present. Porcorum and Sticinthemud had done their duty valiantly,--with much management. But Westminster! If this special seat for Westminster could be carried, the country then could hardly any longer have a doubt on the matter. If only Mr. Melmotte could be got in for Westminster, it would be manifest that the people were sound at heart, and that all the great changes which had been effected during the last forty years,--from the first reform in
Parliament down to the Ballot,--had been managed by the cunning and treachery of a few ambitious men. Not, however, that the Ballot was just now regarded by the party as an unmitigated evil, though it was the last triumph of Radical wickedness. The Ballot was on the whole popular with the party. A short time since, no doubt it was regarded by the party as being one and the same as national ruin and national disgrace. But it had answered well at Porcorum, and with due manipulation had been found to be favourable at Sticinthemud. The Ballot might perhaps help the long pull and the strong pull,--and, in spite of the ruin and disgrace, was thought by some just now to be a highly Conservative measure.

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At 11:12 AM, January 24, 2014 Anonymous Picky had this to say...

A very fine novel from perhaps my second favourite novelist (after Austen). Reading that excerpt reminds me how different he is from Austen: that prose is really rather clunky. And how similar he is: it's about the real world and his novels are about real people (well, at least, the men are), people inhabited by those small weaknesses we see every day in ourselves – so different from the larger-than-life characters of, say, Dickens. Trollope, of course, was on the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, and although his favourites like Palliser are Whigs or Liberals his Tories are human, too. In this piece he points to the hypocrisy of the Disraeli Tories, but nonetheless there is really no condemnation: they are men, and men are prone to act like that.


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