Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

to recognise, and endeavour to carry into effect, that the working classes. are henceforth to be the administrators of the wealth they produce ?

There are portentous indications that the Liberal party under its present leaders is not prepared to respond to this half articulate demand of labour. True it is, the constitution of the Liberal party has vastly changed; its exponents and directors have ceased to be the country gentleman and the Whig noble, but are to be found in the ranks of the journalist, the littérateur, the successful lawyer, and the college tutor. A Grey, a Granville, a Palmerston pass away to be succeeded by a John Morley, a Henry Fowler, a Professor Bryce. But it is not in the Liberal party alone that this change has been wrought : in a less but in a marked degree the character and personnel of the Conservative party have been transformed, and the old type of Conservative leader is giving place to the newest creation of Tory democracy. Hence the Liberal party have no monopoly of social reforms, and may find when too late that the Conservative party will rush in where they have feared to tread.

There are indications, I repeat, that the Liberal party is not prepared to proceed with the solution of those social problems which are agitating the minds of the people, characteristics of which from time to time sporadically display themselves in the form of a dockers' war against "casual labour” and a miners' strike for a “living wage.” Already the narrow patriotism of a powerful section of Scotch Radicals insiststo the manifest discomfiture of the Liberal cause in Scotland—that Disestablishment of the Scotch Church shall form the first article in the Parliamentary programme after Home Rule. Nor will Wales be content if social reforms take precedence over similar treatment of the Welsh Church. To these measures the Government has promised an early place in its programme; and when one considers the large demands upon the time of Parliament that will be made by Irish legislation it is hopeless to anticipate that social reforms can receive serious consideration at the hands of the Government within any measurable limit of time.

But, apart from the engagements into which the Liberal leaders have entered, the prospects of social reforms are not encouraging. With the possible exception of one or two minor members of the Cabinet, the Liberal leaders are imbued with the traditions and training of the Manchester school ; the great capitalists of the country are powerfully represented in the Liberal party and exercise a dominating influence

over its policy; the labour representatives have not yet organised themselves into a distinctive party, and recognise no leader and formulate no policy. As the Irish agrarian struggle before the advent of Charles Parnell was fought out on the hillsides of Ireland, so the English labour conflict between employer and employed is waged with the remorseless engines of strikes and lock-outs; and yet, while Parliament is contemplating with self-satisfied complacency the institution of new Parliaments and the disestablishment of Churches, above the clamour of racial jealousy and sectarian pride there is rising the voice of industrial England, demanding that “equality of social conditions” which is the legitimate sequel to "equality of political rights.”

It is the duty of the Liberal party to respond to that appeal, none the less real, none the less formidable, because it is unformulated and hardly articulate.

The Liberal party are prone to vaunt themselves on their historical position as friends of democracy. They have nearly outlived the benefits of that tradition. It lingers among the sturdy miners of the north, and in a less degree among the mill hands of Yorkshire, but elsewhere the constituencies measure the claims of political parties by the contemporary character of their political programme. London was partially quickened into political sympathy with Liberalism by the aggressive Socialism of the County Council, and though little practical legislation has been accomplished, the sentiment is not extinguished. But unless the Liberal party are prepared to diligently proceed with social reforms, the Conservative party will make still surther progress with the constituencies. Unlike the Liberals, they are 110t under any responsibility in respect of organic political changes. Prior to the Reform Act of 1885, the Liberal party represented the cause of political equality, or democracy, as opposed to the Conservative party, the defenders of political inequality, or aristocracy; the Conservative party would appeal to the cupidity and timidity of the middle-class electorate against popular reforms, while the Liberals would rely upon the support of that section of the working class that was already enfran.chised, and such of the middle class as did not fear democracy. But that state of things is at an end. The working class are the political masters of this country. The Conservative party can no longer play off the middle and upper against the working class. They must possessor, at least, affect to possess—as much confidence in them and solicitude for their interests as their historical antagonists. Their very existence as a party in the State consists in their conciliating a sufficient proportion of the working class to secure them a prospect of success at the polls. They must bid farewell to political power if they are to continue the servants of the interests of land, capital, and privilege. Lord Randolph Churchill was the first Conservative statesman to give practical effect to this great historical fact—the change from the old order to the new He recognised that the mere vague professions of Parliamentary orators were not sufficient to secure the success of his party. He declared that the electorate would look to practical proof being afforded that the Conservative party would adapt their legislative and administrative actions to the requirements and aspirations of the people. It is true that at the outset his monitions were contemptuously disregarded and his attempts to put them into force incontinently crushed, but his vindication has been absolute, and the policy he advocated is now the propagandist creed of official Conservatism. Nay, more ; while the Conservative party as at present constituted is in no small degree the natural protector of wealth and privilege, we are not without signs that its personnel in Parliament is undergoing a significant change. Time was, and not very long ago, when, apart from a handful of political protegés, Conservative members were almost exclusively recruited from county magnates and opulent traders. All that is in process of change. The caucus system has struck its roots deep in the electoral organisation of both parties. Thus we find that the Conservatives have learnt that the sentiments of their party leaders in individual constituencies must be subordinated to the standard of party policy that obtains with official Conservatism, and the faithful party hack who waits in the anteroom of the Conservative "managers ” is preferred to the sturdy squire or self-opinionated manufacturer.

To enter upon an examination of the character of those social reforms which are destined to evoke the generous emulation of the two parties is beyond the possible scope of the present article. When one contemplates the issues that are involved in the vast field of economic change upon which legislative activity will be invited to enter, one can appreciate how distant will be the realisation of even a modest proportion of the remedial legislation which forms the copious material for party declamation.

L. A. ATHERLEY-JONES.

THE DECAY OF BEAUTY,

THE

HE increase of beauty among us is a favourite theme in ladies'

journals. Doubtless the writers are convinced and the readers find it pleasant to be assured that their sex grows lovelier and lovelier. Neither one nor the other commonly can claim to judge by experience Ladies' journalism is a thing of this generation. Only veterans who keep green the memories of their youth are qualified to compare the woman of that time with those they see around them. Statistics cannot be cited on this question, nor any sort of formal evidence. But those who have the sad privilege of looking back over many years recall some facts that bear upon it. They knew a time when pretty girls were expected with assurance at a country house, and “belle of the ball "was a title disputed by half a dozen eager factions; when youths who would not dance were too few to be regarded, unless satirically. These conditions are so far changed that the whole system of ball-giving is threatened with collapse. Most significant of all their recollections, perhaps, is the abundance of pretty servant maids formerly, of rustic comeliness, at fair, and wake, and statute. Phyllis may be neater now—at least she is much finer; but her good looks have almost vanished. One must have a large visiting acquaintance to recognise half a dozen parlour-maids that would have caught the eye then. Bank holidays give an opportunity for judging of this matter. Those who are not used to think that beauty is decaying among us should attend one of the places where young women congregate by tens of thousands on Bank Holiday. If thoughtful observation there do not convince them that the national type is degenerating, they must needs credit that the loveliness of English girls was always a myth.

The causes of such a disastrous revolution must be well worth inquiry. Plato may have been inexact if his words be understood in their common meaning. There is no evidence that beauty of feature must result by a logical sequence from perfect health of body. But

the converse is indisputable—from ill-health or imperfection of body irregularities and distortion of figure do certainly result. When circumstances multiply a feeble stock, and no pains are taken to check that unnatural increase, the race so improvident must lose beauty. During ages beyond number the conditions of life tended to eliminate those feeble stocks, while ruthless customs sought out and extinguished the progeny which escaped. For generations now we have been consuming the inheritance of beauty bequeathed to us by those ages. It begins to show the signs of exhaustion. That is the simple fact.

I will not dwell on the most baneful of all influences working for degeneration, because it is admitted on every hand. Our careful efforts to outwit nature by securing the survival of the unfittest are claimed by good people as the special glory of the age. Most are aware of the evil consequences which must needs follow if the same course were pursued in dealing with animals. But they cannot bring themselves to credit that a beneficent providence will avenge the infraction of its laws when the motive is so pure and holy. Surely they will be suspended for such a blessed cause! So, the more utterly and hopelessly unable a child may be to fulfil the duties of man, the more eagerly we nurse any miserable spark of life within him. When skill and care have triumphed over the manifest design of fate, and the poor thing takes a semblance of manhood, neither law nor custom forbids it to multiply its kind. On the contrary, if the case be “ interesting,” philanthropic peers and personages will concern themselves with the wedding—as was seen not long ago when two deaf-mutes married, with deaf-mute bridesmaids and groomsmen and a cortège of like unfortunates, attended by their offspring, deaf-mutes everyone. The Press gravely wonders and laments when year by year the Registrar-General displays that this terrible infirmity is growing more common. But every newspaper in the land, perhaps, applauded that “pretty and affecting ceremony."

But, kindly folk exclaim, would you deprive these unhappy fellow creatures, the halt and the blind, cripples and paralytic, of the one solace they can enjoy? I have not to answer. But if they be not deprived, the race must pay for the indulgence.

Let us consider the means by which the ape-browed prognathous features of the savage were transformed step by step to symmetry. Whilst the struggle for life was waged sword in hand the most vigorous stocks secured the most attractive women and multiplied; the

« AnteriorContinuar »