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discover new phases of a subject which had been so freely and exhaustively discussed as that of Reform, and to put these phases in fresh and telling language, was a task which would have discouraged and embarrassed most men; but on examining these speeches now, after the lapse of fifteen years, we are struck by the variety of their arguments, the strength of their appeals, and the power of their eloquence. There has been no task accomplished by a living statesman which can be compared with that which Mr. Bright then achieved, save the wonderful and memorable campaign of Mr. Gladstone in Midlothian in 1879-80.
At the close of October, and within a fortnight of the delivery of his Glasgow address, Mr. Bright crossed over to Ireland. On the 30th he was entertained at a banquet in the Rotunda, Dublin, and on rising to respond to the toast of his health there was the same exhibition of enthusiastic feeling which had greeted him upon every English platform. His address on that occasion we shall deal with in a chapter devoted to purely Irish questions. It will suffice here to state that he advocated a wider suffrage for the Irish people as one very potent means of leading to a redress of their grievances. On the 31st the hon. gentleman received a deputation from the Cork Farmers' Club, by whom he was presented with an address thanking him for his services to Ireland, and for his efforts to improve the condition of the occupiers of the land. In reply, the hon. gentleman said that the whole tone of society in England had
been wonderfully improved by the change which took place in 1846; and he believed that if in England and in Ireland the laws of political economy were applied to land, they would find just as great a change from this point forward with regard to matters which were influenced by laws affecting land, as they had found in past times by the abolition of the laws which prevented the importation of corn. A change of Government might do something towards bringing about a settlement of the land question, but he believed what they had most to rely on was a change in the representation of the people.
Mr. Bright also attended a meeting of the working men of Dublin, held in the theatre of the Mechanics' Institution, on the 2nd of November. Mr. James Haughton occupied the chair, and an address of welcome was presented to the member for Birmingham, expressing the thanks of the working men of Ireland to him, and stating that the Irish people had no hope of relief from an English House of Commons as at present constituted. Mr. Bright, in his reply, showed the great importance of Parliamentary Reform to Irishmen. The existing representation was very unequal, for there were twenty-seven boroughs in Ireland with only 9,453 electors, while the county of Cork had 16,107 electors, and returned but two members. But that was not the worst, for many of these boroughs were too small for independence. The question of the ballot was of the greatest importance in Great Britain and Ireland, both in the counties and boroughs. Mr. Bright also dwelt upon the Church and the land questions, but his observations in connection with these subjects we reserve for the present.
In less than a month after leaving Ireland—that is, on the 20th of November, Mr. Bright attended a great Reform banquet in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. It was organized by the National Reform Union, and several Liberal members of Parliament attended. This meeting was amongst the most striking and important held upon the question, and when Mr. Bright rose to address the gathering, he was received by the audience standing, their cheering continuing for several minutes.
Mr. Bright began by saying that the old taunt that the working men felt no grievance in the matter of Reform had been fully and satisfactorily answered. But now the critics turned round, and said that the middle class stood entirely aloof from the movement. He instanced what had occurred in Birmingham, Leeds, and Glasgow to the contrary; and added, “But if there was any question on this matter, I would ask those gentlemen to come on this platform to-night. Here is the largest and finest hall in Britain, the largest and finest hall in Europe, I believe the largest and finest hall in the world, and yet this hall is crowded with persons to whom our opponents, I think generally, unless they were very fastidious, would admit the term respectable and influential. I doubt if there has ever been held in this kingdom, within our time, a political banquet more numerous, more
influential, more unanimous, more grand in every respect than that which is held here to-night. Just now it was the fashion to flatter and to court the middle class, in order to set it against the working sclass. And there was no greater fallacy than to say that the middle classes were in possession of power. The middle class have votes, but those votes are rendered harmless and nugatory by the unfair distribution of them, and there is placed in the voter's hand a weapon which has neither temper nor edge, by which he can neither fight for further freedom, nor defend that which his ancestors have gained.'
The speaker proceeded to show the unequal distribution of the suffrage, pointing out that of the 254 boroughs in the United Kingdom there were 145 with a population of under 20,000 each, and 109 with a population over that number. But the boroughs under 20,000 returned 215 members, against 181 returned by the boroughs over 20,000. Those boroughs with over 20,000 inhabitants, having 39 members fewer than the boroughs under 20,000, were in this position-their members represented six times as many electors, seven times as much population, and fourteen times as much payment of income-tax as the larger number of members represented. Even in the boroughs, therefore, the representative system was almost wholly delusive, and defrauded the middle classes of the power which the Act of 1832 professed to give them. As to the county representation, it was almost too sad a subject to dwell upon. But he was
delighted to believe that the great body of the people were resolved that this state of things should no longer exist. An honest Government had made an honest attempt in the last session of Parliament to tinker the existing system, but the Tory party refused even to have it tinkered. His opinion was that the papers which professed to say what Lord Derby and his friends were going to do in the way of reform knew nothing about it, and that the Government were waiting to see what the weather would be.
Having alluded to the forthcoming London trades' demonstration, Mr. Bright replied to the views of those who thought that Lord Derby would bring in a good Reform Bill. They say that Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington carried Catholic Emancipation; that Sir Robert Peel and the Duke of Wellington repealed the Corn Law; and why should not Lord Derby pass a Reform Bill ? Lord Derby is neither the Duke of Wellington nor Sir Robert Peel. He deserted both those eminent men in 1846, rather than unite with them to repeal the Corn Law; and he has never shown, from that hour to this, one atom of statesmanship or one spark of patriotism that would lead us to expect that, on this occasion, he would turn round, and, neglecting his party, do something for his country.' The antecedents and speeches of Mr. Disraeli, Lord Stanley, Lord Cranborne, General Peel, and Sir Stafford Northcote were successively glanced at, and then the hon. gentleman added, 'I want to ask you whether from these men you are to expect, you are