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Fron Fraser's Magazine.
A GROUP OF PARLIAMENTARY ODDITIES.
COLONEL SIBTHORP, MR. MUNTZ, MR. PETER BORTHWICK, MR. BLEWITT, AND MR. JOHN
One of our fair novelists observes," In, But their abilities, their patient resigyour youth secure the reputation of being nation ever, avail as nothing against their an oddity, and it will seat you in an easy oddities. It is their misfortune to have chair for life.” This remark, partially been afflicted with, or their folly to have true as regards private society, embodies assumed, some peculiarity which touches very bad advice to a public man, and more the sense of the ridiculous ; and the unespecially to a member of the House of mannerly crowd, each unit of which thinks Commons. Wo to the man on whom to hide his individual rudeness in the geneNature has inflicted, or who allows himself ral tyranny, are merciless in their coarse to acquire any peculiarity of voice, manner, and thoughtless laughter. or mode of thinking, or who adopts any
Not that we would cover all these genoutré style of dress, if it be his vocation or themen with the shield of justice. Some bis ambition to speak in public. Even there are who deserve compassion, others genius can scarcely contend against the contempt; while of one or two it may be disqualification produced by such habits. said, that they are in all other respects so
The readers of debates in the House of sensible, that their obstinate perseverance Commons will, of course, have long since in their self-assumed oddities deserves only perceived that the discussions of that as- indignation. But from whatever cause sembly are not always heavy and dull, but their ludicrous conduct may spring, one (according to the parenthetical statements thing is certain, that the exhibitions they of the faithful reporters) that there are re- provoke do often reflect great disgrace on peated bursts of merriment, as some mem- the House of Commons; that the jealous bers of the House say or do things which multitude who are excluded from direct enliven the proceedings. But the accounts participation in constitutional rights, conof the reporters are by no means satisfac- stantly murmur why those whom they would tory on this head. They are not de- choose-true, earnest men-should be exscriptive : they afford no means of judging cluded in favor of property-chosen mounteat what all this merriment proceeds, unless banks; and that foreign readers and spec-which unhappily is seldom the case --the tators of our parliamentary debates are joke is so good and obvious that the reader atterly astonished and seandalized at the involuntarily supplies the laugh which the scenes which sometimes occur in that body report attributes to the House. The same which they have heard so proudly claim the word“ (laughter)” follows the ablest title of an assembly of the first gentlemen point of a Peel or a Russell, a Disraeli or a in Europe. And superficially regarded, Buller, that is appended to the dullest such complaints are only too well founded. platitade of a Borthwick or a Sibthorp. Yet some of the gentlemen who are thus You are absolutely at a loss to discover martyrs to their own peculiarities do not whether the House are laughing with the fairly deserve to be held in such very low speaker, or at him.
estimation. Although their escapades are The difficulty is easily explained. There sometimes ridiculous, they often have their are certain gentlemen who, often with great lucid intervals. Many a solemn dullard, injustice, are made the “butts" of the many a sententious observer of proprieties, House of Commons. One or two there are stands far below them in shrewdness and who cannot rise in their places, especially common sense. They often redeem their if the subject discussed be a grave or im- absurdities, and at times deserve and obportant one, without being met by a roar of tain respect. laughter; the indulgence in which is the In justice alike to them, to the House of more reprehensible, because the parties Commons, and to the constituencies which have till then said nothing, and also be- have sent them to parliament, we will recause, when they do speak, they utter very call a few, and endeavor to fix their real sensible, and even very witty suggestions. character.
Keeley, enters upon the stage; nay, even
when his well-known voice is heard at the To Colonel Sibthorp belongs the dis-wings-it is the signal for an universal roar tinction of being, without exception, the from the delighted audience. They are greatest oddity in the House of Commons. grateful in their pleasure, their laughter is He is also now the “father” of the droll a mixture of memory and expectation, and personages of that assembly, dating his they greet him as much for what he has empire over the general risibilities from a done as for what they know he will do. period far anterior to the parliamentary ex- And he, too, who is the object of all this istence of any of the gentlemen whose oc- involuntary flattery, how well he knows his casional absurdities now enliven the de- footing! He smiles, bows, executes some bates. Many times his supremacy has favorite antic, and then another roar! been temporarily threatened; but the There is a perfect harmony, a thorough unoriginality and perpetual fecundity of his derstanding, between them. From that humor (which is not always involuntary, be moment the actor may say and do almost it known) have carried him through tri- whatever he likes, and still is sure of a kind umphantly against the most audacious of interpretation. Now, the influence of Colohis competitors. Many a meteoric oddity nel Sibthorp over the house of Commons is has he seen laughed into a brief notoriety, not very unlike this of the favorite Dictaonly to be laughed down again into oblivion tor of a Haymarket audience. Let us supby his own superior power of absurdity. pose that the political feelings of a crowded His reign may have been turbulent, but his House kave been swayed during many hours empire over the risible muscles of his five by the artistical debating power of a Peel, or or six hundred auditors is henceforth se- their imagination stimulated by the brilcure. For who could hope to vie with liant oratory of a Macaulay, or that they Colonel Sibthorp?
have been wrought up to the highest pitch We have often endeavored to account of passionate excitement by the spirit-stirfor the peculiar reception he meets with, ring appeals of a Shiel. To a multitudifor the patience and even satisfaction with nous roar of cheering has succeeded for a which he is listened to by a crowded House, few instants that quiet which awaits a new often at the most critical and exciting mo- orator, or a confused low murmur of approments of a debate ; for, be it known, his bation at the speaker who has just sat imperial pride is sometimes not to be satis- down. Suddenly another sound, one the fied with a less distinguished field for dis- least expected, assails the ear, play. Is it his ogre-like appearance ? walls shake under that shout of laughter That alone would not be enough ; for the which resounds from five hundred voices House boasts among its members some far throughout the building; not exactly the more formidable persons. Is it his cou- laughter of mere ridicule, but a convulsive rage, in standing up so bravely to battle expression of delighted amusement. for his crotchets at the most inopportune look around for the cause. Lo! far up the moments ? No; for there are other bores mountain of benches, close by one of the who do the same, and are ruthlessly coughed pillars of the side-gallery, there stands a down. Is it his humor ? No; for it only figure which defies classification. It is Aashes out occasionally in any shape to en- unique. It would, at first glance, merely able you to separate it from his other od-excite ridicule; but, at a second, you perdities. Then is it his dauntless frankness ceive a something indicative of strength, of in speaking of public men, or his strong manliness, of self-possession, which minsubstratum of
sense ? We gles a kind of involuntary respect with suspect it is a little of each, and that the your laughter. It looks like the debris of latter element of interest predominates ; what must once have been a magnifico. A for Colonel Sibtherp speaks mere unadul- majestic air of tawdry grandeur reminds you terated truth in a week than is heard from of how King Joachim might have looked others in the House of Commons in a when he found that the game was up at twelvemonth. He is a licensed jester, and Naples, or of the exaggerated despair of utters grave censures from under his cap that most magnificent of modern potentates, and bells.
King Bland. This spectre-like form When a favorite comedian, who is more breaks on you in detail, but still defying all especially a physical actor, not to say a efforts to fix it as of any known order of buffoon-when a Liston, a Buckstone, almen. The costume is a perfect kaleido
scope ; it belongs to 'no mundane mode. I laughter from all sides proclaim that it is The more you look, the more it aids your something good. The truth is, that this imagination to mystify you with Hoffman- gallant colonel is a sort of self-constituted like transformations. Now, it gives the tribune; and the object of his tribunitian
, wearer the ultra-rakish air of an outsider efforts is, the unmaking and hunting down of the betting-ring ; now, a tyrannical idea of all humbugs. And certainly he has a fuses all clear outlines of coat, vest, and first-rate scent, and a magnificent manner pantaloons, into a loose, enveloping drape- of operation. Nor is it a mere pastime ry, till you behold a sallow and bearded with him; it is a labor in earnest, and it Turk, indulging in the dreamy oblivious- often leads to triumphant results. But ness of his opium sine. At one moment, Colonel Sibthorp has his weaknesses. you think this figure must have walked out There are certain men and classes of men of Holywell Street on a daily avocation, towards whom he is actuated by a rabies. and have strayed into the House by mis- There is no concentration of human feeling take; the next, and you have an image of equal to his hatred of a « commission." the real original of the Saracen's Head Were the sacred choir to appear on earth fumbling his way home, haggard, and with again for the benefit of man, to the gallant disordered hair and beard, in the grey colonel they would be objects of suspicion if dawn of morning, after a night of the en- they were " commissioners.” The only joyment forbidden to the children of the “ commissioner” he could ever be brought Prophet. Now, for an instant, the face is to endure was Mr. Foster of The Times. in repose, and its aspect is Ugolino-like in For he neither received the public pay, nor its melancholy emaciation. Bah! it has produced a “ blue book.” To the colonel, changed the tragic mask for the grotesque ; all other “commissioners,” and more espeand now it is more like one of W. H. cially their.gigantic productions, are sheer Payne's very capital ogres, or friend “humbugs. That is his favorite word Punch's bėte noir-the terrible Sha-la-bi-la! when under exacerbation of bile against It is, indeed, a puzzling face. Finely out-them. In his eyes, they are damnable inlined, Caucasian even to the ideal of a Dis- ventions of corrupt ministers to cram surraeli, time has yet reduced it to a Quixotic reptitiously briefless barristers and governleanness and hardness of feature; and ment underlings with the plunder of the there is, withal, a wild fire in the eye ; and public. In an access of one of his fits of the sallowness and pallor of the complexion, this kind, he confounds all commissioners with the shaggy moustache, and irregular in one dangerous and disgraceful category. stubble of dark hair scattered over the lower The evil of making a commissioner is to him part of the face, losing itself in a formidable greater than any possible good he could pair of whiskers struggling to be a beard ; effect; the remedy is worse than the dis-all these strange symptoms would sug- ease. Need we, then, tell the reader how gest painful ideas, were it not for the good awful has his indignation ever been against humor that for ever reigns in the counte- the great arch-commission itself, or how nance, and the perfect self-possession and irresistible in their comical vehemence have average good sense of the eccentric owner. been his denunciations of the New Poor
But observe his manner of addressing law? That “base, wicked, tyrannical, himself to the House. He does not argue unconstitutional,” measure has educed the or appeal; he propounds or denounces. master-pieces of Sibthorp. Here he has Observe his magisterial air—the intensely been electrical. And, in justice, it must be pompous gravity which reigns on his coun- said, that the terrible earnestness and sintenance, while that shaggy mouth is mov- cerity of his denunciations give to them at ing with such rapid utterance. Observe, times a something of power which flashes too, how he waves his arm, as commanding out like eloquence. attention-how profusely adorned are the Once for all, let it be observed, that howdigits of his small white hand with spark- ever much one may be tempted to laugh from ling brilliants-how comfortably and fa- time to time at Colonel Sibthorp, he is not miliarly he dangles that enormous gold to be regarded, as many persons who see eye-glass and chain, which he never by any him for the first time are inclined to regard accident uses for its destined purpose him, as a person simply ridiculous. There And what is he uttering in that low, rum- is a method even in what seems to be on bling, scarcely articulate voice? Well, it his part sheer foily. It is impossible to is rather difficult to say, but the bursts of avoid laughing at his grotesque figure and
attitudes, or at his simulated gravity, when the public have been accustomed to receive , assailed on all sides by the merriment of no small portion of instruction together
his audience ; nor is it without an admix- with their amusement. ture of that pity which is not the most Battering to a man's amour propre, that one sees the imploring yet half-despairing glances he casts from time to time from under As an oddity, and one of the permanent his shaggy eyebrows, up towards the gallery butts of the House of Commons, the name appropriated to the press. But these of Mr. Peter Borthwick is almost as nooddities are constantly redeemed by the torious as that of Colonel Sibthorp; but sound sense and forcible, if rather rude, his notoriety is not associated with so many truth of his observations. Nor should we reminiscences of amusement. The House forget that Colonel Sibthorp has done of Commons can very well bear the something. He is one of the few "private” loss of Mr. Borthwick; but they could not members of the House of Commons ("pri- do without their Sibthorp. The one, if he vate,” that is to say, as distinguished from be occasionally too prolix, obtruding, too, the leaders or direct servitors of party) his remarks at inconvenient seasons, is at who have defeated a government. We least the cause of hearty laughter, which need hardly remind the reader that we is much more often the laughter of symrefer to that memorable motion of the pathy than of derision ; but the other, gallant colonel, the result of which was the always prolix, and unmerciful in his inreduction of the proposed vote to Prince fictions on the House, only rarely uttered Albert of 50,0001. a year to 30,0001. any sentiment or opinion rising above the This was a great triumph for Colonel Sib- level of mere sententious platitudes, and if thorp--the grand event of his life. he raised a laugh, it was at his own expense.
Within the last two years, the gallant Yet it would be unfair to be und iscrimicolonel has been in a dreadful dilemma. nating in censure, even upon one who has For many years past he has been a staunch somehow or other acquired the name of and consistent Conservative partisan—a being the greatest “ bore” in the House of laudator temporis acti—a panegyrist even Commons. We shall find that there are to excess of Sir Robert Peel; and he has redeeming points even in Mr. Peter Borthdistinguished himself above all other mem- wick, and that it is his own fault if he makes bers by his exaggerated hatred and abuse himself ridiculous. of the Whigs. But the defection of Sir In the first place, it is an evidence of Robert from some of the principles of his talent of some sort or other, that Mr. party leaves Colonel Sibthorp without an Borthwick should have been able for so object of worship. To have one is essen- many years to keep his place in the House tial to him. He does not like to turn of Commons, in spite of the evidence round and abuse Sir Robert, after his elo- which every day's newspapers must have quent praises of that statesman which are carried down to the good people of Evesham, on record ; nor, on the other hand, does he that their representative was not the brightlike openly to laud Lord John Russell and est ornament, or the most favored member the Whigs, whom he has so often denounced, of the senate. His maiden speech decided amidst the cheers and laughter of his friends, his fate as far as the House was concerned; as the incarnation of everything that is and for some time after the catastrophe wicked and despicable in statesmanship. which attended it, he never rose there but He halts, therefore, between the two, and to be saluted with coughs, laughter, and his vocation is for a time partially suspend- every species of opposition permitted in ed. He is sorely puzzled between the that assembly. But courage, nay, even present, the past, and the future; and his obstinate perseverance, always commands demeanor in his new position is very a certain influence with a multitude ; and comical. But there is hope for Colonel as it became very apparent that not only Sibthorp. Ere long parties must settle was Mr. Borthwick afflicted with a desire down, and there will then again be afforded to prove to the world that his eloquence scope for that frankness of disposition, combined all the beauties of Burke and and that habit of unflinchingly uttering the his great contemporaries, but also that he most bizarre truths, which have made the was determined, as far as constant speechgallant colonel so famous, and from which making and a resolute maintenance of his it is only justice to say, that the house and rights could do it, to force his own convic
tion on his audience also. Strange to say, his persistence gained him his point. Of course, he could not expect the House to Looking at the exterior of Mr. Muntz, listen. He might harangue to empty one would be far, indeed, from believing benches, or amidst the loud murmur of that he is so sensible a man as, his vagaries general conversation, but still he did speak of dress set aside, he really is. Of all the And at last, even the reporters, who were oddities in parliament, he is the one who much indebted to him for so constantly especially goes out of his way to make himinterrupting more important speeches, took self an object for laughter, by flying in the compassion on him. If they took the face of all ordinary custom as to dress and liberty of very much compressing his manners. How he could have at first brought speeches, they also suppressed the running himself to adopt the semi-barbarous costume commentary of his audience ; so that when he wears, it is almost impossible for any the good people of Evesham saw the name man of ordinary habits of mind to conceive; of their member so often in the papers, but he certainly has persisted in it with a they began to take him at his word, and to steadfastness, and has defied public criticism think bim almost as great a man and as with a bravery, worthy of a better cause. accomplished an orator as those whom he Mr. Muntz is a man of almost herculean sets up as his models.
proportions; he has a large head, a large Ambition is the ruin of Mr. Borthwick.body, large limbs. But he is also what Had he been anything but a member of is called a “heavy man, especially in parliament-an advocate, a public lecturer his gait. He has, however, a handsome (which for a time he was), or a teacher of countenance, and a well-formed person ; elocution, he would have been an useful and, with very slight attention to the member of society And even as a mem- choice of his dress, he would be univerber of parliament, if he would have sensibly sally regarded as a very fine and striking confined himself to a subordinate position, exception to the usual forms of humanity and have applied himself to such matters as in these days of degeneracy and effeminacy, are within the range of his capacity, he when men seem to think that they approach might have earned a respectable character, the nearer to the highest standard of genand have ere now attained what has, per- tility the more they adopt the habits and haps, been the object of his ill-directed manners of women. Rubens would have efforts,—some office in the service of the gloried in Mr. Muntz for a model. Forget public; for Mr. Borthwick is by no means his outré dress, and you might think you a fool, as nine-tenths of those who go to had before you some magnificent old feudal the House of Commons suppose : it is only baron, with nobility and command in every bis persisting in appearing on so grand a look and gesture stage that has attracted attention to his But the Mr. Muntz whom you see in the peculiarities. He is apparently a man of House of Commons, or whom you meet in good education ; indeed, he was a Fellow- the street, stalking along with the strides o Commoner of Downing College, Cambridge. a Seven-league-Boots,-like an ogre, with He is well read, has applied himself practi- a club in hand, seeking his breakfast,cally, with great industry, to the many
His face is alquestions which have been discussed in most covered with an enormous mass of dark parliament during the last fifteen years; hair ; his coat, large and loose, might fit a and as to his speeches themselves, although giant; and his trousers are two sacks, jointhey are wordy, and occasionally inflated ed at the hither end. At each long stride and bombastic in their language, yet, when he disposes of nearly a yard of ground, and reported verbatim, as they were at one time, he bears in his hand, wherewith he strikes in some of the papers, they “read” incom- the ground as if with a paving-rammer, parably better than those of some men something between a stick and the trunk of holding a much higher standing in the a tree,-a sort of gigantic club, or shilleHouse of Commons. Occasionally, we lagh, the like of which, for size, you would have heard from him passages that were not find in Tipperary. Surely it is Fee-fireally eloquent; at other times, a question fo-fum come out for his morning walk. Or, has been argued by him with singular power fancy a Cossack dropped in London, and, and lucidity: and certainly very respectable straying into the Minories, fitting himself aphorisms might be culled from some of his out at Moses and Son's, bap-hazard, with speeches.
the largest clothes he could find! Lately, Vol. XII. No. III.