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An essay by Israel Zangwill

Concerning General Elections

Title:     Concerning General Elections
Author: Israel Zangwill [More Titles by Zangwill]

Twice in succession has it befallen me to be privately busy in a backwater when the main stream was spuming and ramping with the great bore of a general election. I have been able to hear the swallows twitter at sunrise in serene unconsciousness of the crisis, to watch the rooks homing at twilight, as though the course of Nature were still the same, and to see the moonlight rippling over the sombre water at midnight in unaffected tranquillity. Myself was scarcely better informed of the tidal flood: stray echoes of speech, odd fragments of newspaper floated down to me, and at intervals some visitant from the greater deep held, like a sea-shell, the rumour of its sounding waters.

And, indeed, where shall we find a better metaphor for party-government than this of the tide, of the ebb and flow of political power--remorseless, inevitable, regardless of those who, tossed high on the stream, imagine they direct it? And in this metaphor the People must play Moon, like the clown in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." But, as Juliet says:

O swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon.

The cause of this inconstancy has not escaped even the philosophers. The Whig and the Tory, rival lovers of Luna,--moonstruck ravers,--woo her with honeyed words and dulcet promises, and she inclines her coquettish ear--most of the month she is all ear--to the highest bidder. But when she comes to her full--and is all eye--then she perceives her swain faithless and empty-handed, and straightway she plights her troth to his clamorous and expostulant fellow, who dangles his untried promises before her disappointed vision. And the days pass, and she rises and sets; but lo! the bridal gifts linger still, and the horn of plenty is an empty trumpet, and, forgetful of her first lover's failure, she turns to him again. And so for ever, in a fickle quest of fidelity, pathetic enough. Perhaps she--with the two strings to her bow--shares the just fate of coquettes, happy with neither; perhaps she were wiser to give herself to a single lover, and be rid for ever of these hesitancies. And yet, would she profit by the change? Endymion, the one youth whose beauty drew her from heaven, remained perpetually asleep. Is there not some profound significance in the ancient myth, some truth that would have pleased Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam (as the pedants will have us call the man who did not write Shakespeare).

But the philosophers, who have understood the levity of mind that underlies changes of Cabinets, have not always understood the numerical pettiness of the voting power by which the change is effected. Just as every philosopher is born a Platonist or an Aristotelian, so, as Mr. Gilbert sings, is every Englishman born a little Liberal or a little Conservative: even if his politics be not original sin, it is early acquired. Thus, then, the nation consists of two great camps--the Liberals and the Conservatives--which are practically fixed; standing armies that may be relied upon. A born Liberal may wax fat and kick at his ancient principles: a born Conservative may change his coat and turn Whig. But these exceptions are rare. For the most part men stick to their party and die as foolish as they were born--which is called consistency. Convinced sometimes against their will, they are of the same opinion still. Loyalty and obstinacy will look facts in the face and never blench, and every one remains truer to his social circle than to his private judgments. People's politics are their prejudices at a masked ball, and the Conservatives will vote Conservative and the Liberals Liberal, through a cannonade of unanswerable cartoons. Apart from these two great standing armies, there is a shifting body of free-lances, guerrillas, Jacks-o'-both-sides, call them what you will--waverers who have too much conscience or too little, who are swayed by their reason or their pocket, or who are gullible enough to believe that the opposition will do better, or sportsmen enough to desire fair play and a chance for the other side, and who are found fighting now in this camp, now in that. The camps themselves are fairly matched: Rads and Tories--the sexes of politics--are as evenly created as men and women. They are like ten-pound weights standing on either scale of a balance. What, then, determines the oscillation this way or that? Evidently the miserable little half-ounce weight placed sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other. In fine,'tisthe tiny squadron of free-lances that wins general elections, the voters who think or who don't think, or who veer to be with the majority. The Jacks-o'-both-sides rule England, even as the Parnell brigade ruled Parliament. To this floating population is it given to make or unmake Cabinets; theirs is the righteous indignation that sweeps the country like a new broom, and sweeps Ministries into limbo; to them is made the magniloquent "appeal to the country!" _L'etat, c'est nous!_ might be the motto of this third party, were it but conscious of itself as a party.

"The majority is never right," cries Dr. Stockmann in "The Enemy of the People." "Never, I say. That is one of those conventional lies against which a free, thoughtful man must rebel. Who are they that make up the majority of a country? Is it the wise men or the foolish? I think we must agree that the foolish folk are, at present, in a terribly overwhelming majority all around and about us the wide world over. But, devil take it, it can surely never be right that the foolish should rule over the wise.... The majority has might--unhappily--but right it has not. I and a few others are right." But how if "I and a few others" organised themselves after the fashion of the Parnellites? how if the wise men made up their minds that the world should no longer be governed with the proverbial minimum of wisdom, and, taking advantage of the natural balance of parties, resolved that they should be the ones to supply the principle of movement to the equilibrated social machine? Surely the Millennium could not long resist the Philosophers' party. But, alas! would the wise men agree? Would not they also split up into two factions? And even if philosophers were kings and kings philosophers, _would_ the kingdom of Plato be at hand?

Popular suffrage is much maligned. "Think," says Bouvard, one of the tragi-comic twain who serve for title to that saddest of all humorous books, Flaubert's "Bouvard et Pecuchet," "think of all those who buy pomades and patent medicines. These blockheads form the electorate and we submit to their will. Why can't one make three thousand a year by breeding rabbits? Because too much crowding together is fatal to them. In like manner, by the mere coming together of a crowd the germs of stupidity which it contains get developed and the consequences are incalculable." But popular suffrage does not operate like this at all. One might almost say that half the stupidity contradicts and annihilates the other half: in practice the franchise carries its own antidote,--the "germs of stupidity" do not get developed, but destroyed. The metaphor of germs would be more appropriate if applied to the ideas of the party-programmes, for these ideas are introduced by a few wise or foolish men and disseminated epidemically throughout their respective parties. Democracy never escapes aristocracy, for the people never invents ideas; its whole power is that of choice between the ideas offered by its would-be leaders, and even these ideas it accepts less as a philosopher than as a patient, rather as "germs" than as thoughts. And when once it has accepted its leaders or its representatives, the beautiful parliamentary system deprives it of all further rights of interference for a term of years, and the policy of the country is far more dependent on the intestine rivalries and manoeuvrings of the representatives than on the desires and demands of the represented. In a really democratic system there would be a central bureau of statesmen not necessarily elected by the voice of the people, and this bureau should have for object not the wrangling over measures, but the mere proposition of them. These trained thinkers and diplomatists--accepting advice freely from the great newspapers and the chiefs of factions--would propose whatever measures seemed necessary from time to time for the preservation, the elevation, and the dignity of the commonweal, and these propositions would be submitted officially to every franchise-holder, just as the inquisitive census-paper or the parochial voting-paper is to-day. The "Ayes" or "Noes" of the people would have it, not of those who represent them, save the mark! The details could be drafted by specialists, as to-day. That this would be a better or even a feasible system I do not say; but I do maintain that any other democracy than this is a fraud. To have the ten-thousandth part of a voice in selecting among the varying policies of sundry ambitious gentlemen, all of whom have been foisted on me by committees, and of whom the successful one--whose professed views may be quite antithetical to mine and can at best only roughly represent them--will have, when he is not absent or manoeuvred into silence, the six-hundred-and-seventieth part of a voice in accepting or rejecting the ideas of half a dozen very ambitious gentlemen, whose measures are themselves liable to be quashed at the eleventh hour by an Upper House that sits without my will or consent, and which is in its turn legally liable to be superseded by the Sovereign, whose government is all the while being really carried on in silence by permanent officials whose very names I do not know and who have no connection with me beyond accepting, in ignorance of my existence, my dole towards their salaries,--this is not a form of democracy that appeals very attractively to me as an individual member of Demos.

And, moreover, the position of my Member of Parliament is scarcely less paradoxical than my own role of free and independent elector. He is the mouthpiece of his constituents, and yet he is expected to have a will and conscience of his own. Why? Why should he be any more honest than a lawyer or a journalist? Each of these classes is paid to maintain certain propositions, and the most successful in these lines are those with the highest powers of persuasion. The constituency wishes certain opinions and desires put forward in Parliament,--why should the man who offers to execute the job be presumed to share those opinions and desires? The point is, can he represent them more forcibly than the rival candidates? I do not for a moment imagine that the M. P. invariably agrees with the politics of his electors; I only inquire why he should have to profess to,--why should he pay this homage of hypocrisy to an illogical ideal? Theoretically we do not elect our M. P. because _he_ wants to get on, but because _we_ want to get on or the country to get on; because _we_ want certain measures carried, not because _he_ wants certain measures carried. Therefore it is to our interest to get the most skilled advocate at our command; his personal opinions are no concern of ours. A fig for his ambitions and aspirations! This may not be a dignified position for the M. P., but it is the one logically implicated in the democratic notion of universal suffrage; and when the gentleman honestly asserts himself and his private ambitions and his private conscience, he is deucedly dishonest to his constituents.

To be strictly logical, indeed, M. P.'s should confine themselves to stating the wishes of the people they represent: they might as well be mechanical dolls, moved through the lobbies by the respective wire-pullers and fitted with inarticulate noises. Or, for the matter of that, they might be superseded altogether by written summaries of the opinions of the winning majority in each constituency on all the points at issue in the current session. The chiefs of the party could play the game with markers. But indeed what is the use of dealing the cards at all, when the Prime Minister holds all the trumps in advance, not up his sleeve, but openly on the table? As for the speeches in the House, they have as much effect upon the issue as the conversations at the card-table. They are an obsolete survival from the times when members were liable to come to the House with open minds, instead of having them closed by their constituencies. Indeed, I can suggest a simple device by which, without any departure from the ancient forms of the House, most of the evils of Party Government could be swept away. By the system of "pairing" a Tory may neutralize a Radical, and both go on together without interfering with the good of the country. Let therefore the entire minority pair off with members of the opposite party, leaving the bare majority in possession of the floor. Being agreed on their policy, these would not want to make speeches, but would simply spend their time walking through the "Ayes" lobby. A few afternoons of pleasant promenading would provide the country with enough legislation for a lifetime. _Solvitur ambulando._ The party leaders would be enabled to husband their energies for the hustings, since like all the agreeable members they would easily find "partners." It is only the bores who would be left to walk the House. It will be observed that this incalculable gain of time, temper, money, and Acts of Parliament would be secured without revolution, on constitutional lines, and by a mere extension of an existing practice. I am convinced the salvation of the country depends on the universal adoption of the system of Parliamentary "pairing," or legislation by walking "wall-flowers."

A further advantage of this system deserves to be noted. As it takes forty members to make a House, should the Governmental majority fall below this number no business could be transacted. Thus it would become impossible, when the country was almost equally divided, for one party to impose its will on the nation by force of a bare majority. Again, therefore, a very necessary reform would be achieved on strictly constitutional lines.

In so confused a constitution, or so constitutional a confusion, it ill becomes one to inquire why pre-eminence in Parliament is attained by dexterity in the word-duel, and why a John Stuart Mill, who gave his life to the study of sociological questions, is a failure in the House, while a Randolph Churchill, who confessedly found politics more exciting than any other form of sport, including even horse-racing, should be a success. As in Athens of old, the rhetorician is master of the field. Does it not seem ridiculous that a man shall be allowed to legislate who has not passed an examination in political philosophy, political economy, and universal history? As absurd as that men should be able to set up as critics merely by purchasing reviews, that they should be permitted to ply without a license. Still, monstrous as is the mischief wrought by the quack critic, his sphere of influence is limited. But this question of government touches us all. No one ought to be allowed in the House who has not satisfactorily grappled with papers like the following.

1. Explain the use of the following phrases: "Home Rule," "Liberty," "Well-being of the Masses," "G. O. M.," "Good of the State," "The Constitution." What meaning do you attach to them, if any?

2. "The Function of an Opposition Is To Oppose." Criticise this statement from the point of view of the Party in Power, and trace carefully the modification in its view produced by a change of government.

3. What is a good electoral address? Is there any relation between it and its owner's votes in the House?

4. (a) Prove that Female Franchise is demanded not only by the women of England, but by every consideration of reason and justice.

(b) Disprove the same.

5. The leader of your party suddenly reverses his policy.

(a) What would you think?

(b) What would you say?

(c) How would you vote?

Give no reasons for your answer.

6. If C represents Conscience, and C1 the Constituency, show that C1 will always be represented by C2[*].

[Transcriber's note: So in original.]

7. What is a working-man? Explain why professional men who work sixteen hours a day are excluded from this category.

8. Define a political victory, and distinguish between a political victory and a moral victory.

But perhaps the discrepancy is less than meets the eye. The House of Commons is a _Representative_ Assembly; the rhetoricians and fencers represent the unreason and the pugnacity of the partisans. A country has the politicians it deserves. I have heard the most ignorant girls rage against Mr. Gladstone; damsels in their teens who knew nothing of life or its problems, nor could have studied any question for themselves; pretty girls withal, but who at the mention of the veteran statesman took on the avenging aspect of the Eumenides.

It was a girl of quite another temper who replied to me when, talking over old times and old discussions, I said I had not yet become a Socialist: "I don't think you ever knew what you were." I winced as at a just reproach, yet when I had left her the retort occurred to me (as retorts will, when too late) that there was no particular merit in being a "what," that men were not necessarily "'ists" or "'ites," that thoughts did not fit into pigeonholes, and that if there was any merit in the matter it consisted rather in preserving free play and elasticity of mind. Because certain men had put certain ideas into the world it did not follow that every other man had definitely to accept or reject each and all of them, and to become an "'ite" or an "anti-'ite" in so doing. Plague take great men! What right had they to force one into the jury-box? Still less was it compulsory to return a verdict if, as the vulgar were apt to think, the acceptance of any one "'ism" precluded the acceptance of another, so that to be an Ibsenite was synonymous with detesting the dramas of Sardou, and to be a Wagnerite involved a horror of Mendelssohn. It was only the uncultured who held their artistic and political creeds with the narrowness of Little Bethel, importing into thought and aesthetics the zealotry they had lost in religion. The book of Experience, thought I, is not an Encyclopaedia, with every possible topic neatly ranged in alphabetical order; 'tis no A B C Time Table, with the trains docketed for the enlightenment of the simple,'t is rather an Encyclopaedia torn into a million million fragments by kittens and pasted together again by infants, so that all possible things are inextricably interfused, every one with every other; 't is a Bradshaw edited by a maniac, where the trains that start but don't arrive are not even distinguished from the trains that arrive but don't start. Wherever persons are conscious of the infinite complexities of things, they will be found cautious of creed and timid of assertion. You have probably noted that at Waterloo Station, in London, no porter will ever bind himself to a definite statement concerning any train. It is only the inartistic who hold that black is black and white is white, unconditionally, irretrievably; and who have invented the proverb "He'd say black's white" to express the Sophist _in excelsis_. It must be true, as Ruskin contends, that not one man in fifteen thousand has ever observed anything, else how account for this wide-spread fallacy? The "wit of one," instead of crystallising this "wisdom of the many," should have flatly contradicted it. For, take two blackboards and place them at right angles to each other: let a ray of bright sunlight fall upon them, so that one cast a shadow on the other. The portion of blackboard overshadowed will indeed be blackish, but the portion illuminated by full sunlight will be comparatively white, although it is still thought of as a "_black_-board." So, too, ask the man in the street for the colour of trees, and he will reply "green." If I may permit myself a vulgar locution, the green is in his eye. Trees are, of course, all colours of the rainbow, according to kind and season; and grass, too, is by no means always so green as people think it. We start in our childhood with prejudices on these subjects--what is education but the systematic imparting of prejudice?--and we rarely recover. Even the primitive rhymes of childhood fix ideas unalterably in our minds:

The rose is red, the violet's blue,
Sugar is sweet and so are you.

Tea-roses are not red nor Neapolitan violets blue; sugar is only sweet to those unversed in metaphysics, and sugar of lead not even to them. As for the compliment to the juvenile petticoat, let it remain. But the blackness of black is a superstition that deserves no such courteous concessions. There is, in fact, no black and no white at all, as any black-and-white artist will tell you. Black is not a colour: it is merely the negation of light. By day nothing is ever black--it always contains reflected light from some surrounding object or objects: if you look at a "black" thing by day, you see its details, which convincingly proves that light is not absent. If there were such a thing as a black object, it could only prove its existence by being seen; but if it is seen it is no longer black, and if it is black it is no longer seen. The mourners at a funeral no more wear black than the bridesmaids at a wedding wear white. To be white, a thing would have to escape all reflected light; and even if this were possible, the sunlight itself, the source of all light and colour, would tinge it with yellow, or red, or pink, according to the time of day. "What!" the injudicious reader will cry, "is not snow white? Does not the Dictionary boast even a double-barreled epithet 'snow-white'! How about the 'great white sea' that stretches round the Pole?" I cannot help it: these adjectives, these expressions were invented before artists had taught men to see: hastily, as by men falling in love at first sight, who are destined to make many discoveries concerning their idol later on. Snow is never white, any more than the beloved is absolutely blameless. For snow to be "snow-white," the sky would have to be white, whereas in those arctic circles it should be either blue or grey. Moreover, the snow being only semi-opaque must be tinctured by the shadow of the darkness of its own depths; as for icebergs, well, you may see green, brown, and even deep-grey ice, whilst the whitest have pinnacles and crags that must break the light like prisms into all the colours of the spectrum, and all these hues, again, do not fail to tint the snow. Nor will the white bear improve the situation, for, to judge by the specimen in our London Zoological Gardens, white bears are dirty yellow, just as black bears are dirty brown.

But, so far from realising that black may be white, your average voter seems to imagine that neither is ever even tempered: that his party is purest white, and the opposition party impurest black. That the other side reverses this colouring does not trouble him: it is merely due to the aforesaid sophistical faculty of proving black white. I once knew a man--no average voter he--who owned two comic papers, the one Radical, the other Conservative. How he must have chuckled as he planned the cartoons and settled the chiaroscuro! What blacks for the Tories to be answered by counter-blacks for the Radicals! Beaconsfield as a sweep, Gladstone as an Angel of Light; Beaconsfield as Ormuzd, Gladstone as Ahriman; each in turn Lucifer, Son of the Morning, and Satan, the discomfited demon. I tremble to think what would have happened if, by one of those _contretemps_ which sometimes occur even in real life, the cartoons had got interchanged. And caricatures such as these influence the elections! The most childish nonsense, written in the picture-language so dear to children! And on such ineptitudes the destinies of the nation are supposed to turn! 'T is a comforting reflection, then, that the whole thing is so largely a farce, that the real axis of events is elsewhere--by no means a thing to grieve over. If the British Constitution is a paradox not to be fathomed by human intellect, why, that is a quality which it shares with Space and Time and all deep and elemental things. Your deep thinker is invariably a paradox-monger, because everything when probed to its bottom proves illusive, and is found to contain its own contradiction. Truth is not a dead butterfly, to be transfixed with a pin and labelled, but a living, airy, evasive butterfly. Perhaps that is the inner meaning of the Whistlerian motto. The Hegelian self-contradictoriness of the British Constitution will not, therefore, affright us. To Tennyson the fact that it is a "crowned republic" seemed a source of security. The English have abolished the Crown, though they are too loyal to inform the Sovereign of his deposition; in like manner they have evaded Democracy by conceding universal suffrage. The strength of the British Constitution lies in its inherent absurdity, its audacious paradoxicalness. It exists by force of not being carried out. And the reason of this illogicality is clear: our Constitution, like Topsy, was not made but "growed," and that which grows is never logically perfect; it is like an old tree, strangely gnarled, with countless abrasions and mutilations, and sometimes even curious grafts. Here the lightning struck it, and yonder branch was snapped in the great gale. Machine-made schemes may be theoretically perfect, but they will never suit human nature, which is a soil for living growths, not a concrete foundation for elegant architecture. This is the truth which trips up Comte, and Fourier, and St. Simon, and all the system-makers and utopia-builders. Perfect things are dead things: the law of life is imperfection and movement. Life is never logical, it is only alive. If man had been made by machinery his body would not have been erratically hairy; his toes would long since have been improved away or welded together by an American patentee; nor would there have remained, for our humiliation, those traces of a caudal appendage which some osteologists have thought to perceive in our distinguished anatomy; our brotherhood to the beasts would have been betrayed only by our behaviour.

So that, though Politics be as absurd as the Constitution, God bless her, it may yet fulfil as useful a function. Who would deprive the hosts of working-men of their generous enthusiasms, even though these be to the profit of the professional politician? Who would narrow their horizon back to the public-house and the workshop or the clerical desk and the music-hall, by assuring them that all these great national and international questions will be no penny the worse or the better for their interest in them? For it is they, not the State, that will be benefited. Politics is a great educative force: it teaches history, geography, and the art of debate, and is not without relation to Shakespeare and the musical glasses. The flies on the wheel are not moving the wheel, but they are travelling and seeing the world, whereas they might otherwise be buzzing around the dust-bin. Politics sets the humblest at the centre of great cross-roads of history: it promotes clubs and all manner of fellowship, and enables the poorest--on polling-day at least--to know himself the equal of the greatest. Even the most illiterate is spared the mortification of being reminded that he cannot sign his name. And finally, and most of all, it preserves among us the lost art of fighting. The long and oft-vaunted immunity of England from the foot of a foreign foe has its drawbacks: we have forgotten what war really means, we have delegated our courage and patriotism to an army of mercenaries, who represent us in the field as a nobleman's carriage represents him at a funeral; we are valiant vicariously and sublime by deputy; we take the war-fever in its pleasant heats, and contract out the chills and the blood-letting. And so the blood-letting fails to purge us as before: the evil humours are still in the system. All those seething, restless spirits which generate in the blood of a once warlike race clog us up and turn to bile and dyspeptic distempers. Our militant instincts, suppressed by a too-secure civilization, break out in sordid maladies of the social organism. As a vent-hole for the envy, hatred and uncharitableness of mankind, politics cannot be overestimated. In the absence of real battles on our soil these sham fights of the polling-booth--sham because they determine nothing, because the great silent forces are working behind all the noises--are the national purge for "our present discontents"; no more truly efficacious than that ancient therapeutics of the lancet, a General Election yet comforts the patient, he takes a lease of fresh hope, the sun leaps out, the clouds pack, the sky is blue, the grass is dew-pearled, God's in his heaven, and all's right with the world. Even the beaten party feels that it has won a moral victory, and confidently looks forward to victory without morality at the next turn of the wheel. And so all these diseased humours of the body politic pass harmlessly off.

No one but a confirmed cynic would wish to do away with all this harmless dissipation, all the innocent fun of electioneering, the speeches, riotings, mud-throwings, everybody happy as sandboys or mudlarks. What a great day that was--Plancus being M. P. and I a boy in a provincial town--when the Blues and the Reds meant broken heads, and the flowing tide of beer, and spruce carriages with beribboned horses, and jocund waggonettes, and bands and banners, and "hoorays," and shuttered shops, and an outpour of citizens; a day festive, yet solemn, pregnant with mysterious dooms and destinies, fatal, ineluctable, if victory fell to the wrong-coloured ribbons. I remember when my father went to poll his vote--a strange, weird article that had to be carried carefully concealed on the person, lest the roughs of the opposition should catch a glimpse of the tip of it and bash in the holder's head--with what awed imagination we followed his course, as of a hero gone to storm a redoubt or lead a forlorn hope! with what anxiety we waited at home with the bandages! For the civil war, which our constitution foments, was less of a sham then than now, and the polling-booths vied with the playing-fields of Eton as the nursery of England's heroes. Ah, the brave old times! An anaemic age languishes for want of you, and finds its solace in "bluggy" tales. For just as politics supplies the shadow, the simulacrum of fighting, so art supplies the shadows of life to those who lack the substance. We herd in towns, and take the country in dashes of water-colour framed in gilt. We marry for money, and satiate our baulked sense of romance with concoctions from Mudie's. We lie and haggle and cheat only the better to apprehend the subtleties of spiritual discourse in fashionable churches, and our generous appreciation of the consummate chivalry of the hero of melodrama is the reward we owe ourselves for the pain it gave us to kick our wives. Practical joking is banished from reputable circles--even Bob Sawyer is ranging himself; and so this primitive appetite seeks its satisfaction in farcical comedies. Poetic tragedies owe their attraction to the dominance in real life of the drab and the unlovely, and the overstrain of the intellect in modern life gives a peculiar flavour to the ineptitudes of Gaiety burlesque. All the primal instincts and passions are still in us, though distorted, exaggerated, diminished, modified, applied to different objects and purposes. The man with vagabond instincts becomes an explorer, Ishmael writes social dramas, the happier son of a defalcating cashier rises to be a minister of finance, the born liar turns novelist, the man with murder in his soul hunts big game in foreign lands or settles down at home as a critic. And so, too, the born warrior becomes a political leader; and politics, if it does not do any of the things it professes to do, plays yet an invaluable part in modern life, bridging over, perchance, the transition from the bellicose ages to those belauded days when the war-drum shall throb no longer, "and the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law."

That this is confusedly and sub-consciously understood, even by politicians, is shown by their very vocabulary. The Salvation Army itself boasts no more militant a phraseology than the profession whose business it is to administer peacefully the affairs of the realm. That which should be, and sometimes is, expressed by nautical metaphors--the ship of state, guiding the helm, and the rest of it--is much more frequently expressed by military metaphors. Even the posts of duty are the "spoils" of office. The State which to Plato was a deliberately harmonised music is to us a deliberate discord, and the acme of politics, whose crowning glory should be a peaceful measure, is by the vulgar not so inaccurately regarded as attained at a General Election, the nomenclature of which positively bristles with bayonets. Seats are won as towns were of old, and, as in the days of Joshua, victory is achieved by walking round the town and blowing your own trumpets. Great organs shamelessly lament that their side has no good grievance to go to the country with,--as if the absence of grievances were not the very object of government! A stirring war-cry--that is the indispensable. If good government were really the object of a General Election, it would all be over and done with in a day. Election day would everywhere be as simultaneous as Christmas, and votes would be polled with the punctuality with which puddings are eaten. But this would be to contract a campaign into a battle--to make a short story out of a great military serial, peppered with exciting incidents, to be continued in our next. We want our vicissitudes, our sharpshooting, our skirmishing, our days of triumph for the Whigs, and our days of triumph for the Tories. What we like best of all is when the fighting is so level that the Election progresses as breathlessly as a good University boat race. Failing that, we like to see one side swamping the other, like a great flood, the stream rising daily higher and higher, with a crescendo roar, till the vanquished are swept away in a thunderous mountain of waters. So for a full moon the waters rage, the noise of battle roars, till our suppressed fighting instincts have been deluded into repose and satisfaction, till the champing war-horses have been quieted by being allowed to snort and cry "Ha! ha!" to see the glitter of stage spears, and to hear the noise of the supers and the shouting. This is the real end masked beneath all those interminable phrases. And it is achieved at any and every cost. For does not everybody complain that a General Election upsets everything? The publishers groan, the theatrical managers tear their wigs. Englishmen cannot think of two things at once; they are like heavy, solid craft, sound of timber but slow of turning. "One thing at a time" is a national proverb. They cannot even read two books at once, and if two classics should be published on the same day one would be a failure. There is the book of the week, and the book of the season, and the book of the year. This applies even to our appreciation of past periods, and because Shakespeare is the first of the Elizabethan dramatists, the rest are nowhere. Wherefore one would suppose that everybody would make haste to get the Election out of the way; but, on the contrary, it is allowed to linger on, till sometimes our overstrained suspense snaps, and the Election dribbles out in unregarded issues. No, the fight's the thing! War, if not dead, is banished from our shores; the duello has been laughed to death; cock-fighting and bull-baiting have ceased to charm: politics alone remains to gratify the pugnacity and cruelty that civilisation has robbed of their due objects. How we brighten up again at a bye-election, when duels which passed unregarded in the big battle, when towns scarcely noted at the fag-end of the great campaign, become the cynosure of every eye. Through Slocum or Eatonswill the hub of the universe temporarily passes: to its population of four thousand, mostly fools, are entrusted the destinies of the Empire; it is theirs to make or mar. The duel is watched by a breathless nation. The party leaders on each side cheer on their men; their careers and claims and countenances fill up the papers, and they cross swords in a shower of telegrams. Advice to those about to enter Parliament: Elect for a bye-election. Why be a nonentity, a mere M.P., when by a little patience you may hold the centre of the stage, if only for a week? Better almost to be beaten at a bye-election than to be successful at a General.

In case I should ever seek the suffrages of electors myself, I would venture to remind opposition agents and private secretaries that these random criticisms of the glorious constitution (hear, hear!) of that great Empire on which the sun never sets (cheers), over which the Union Jack waves (loud cheers)--a thousand years the battle and the breeze--hem!--I--I--ahem!--Lord Salisbury (loud and prolonged cheers)--I mean that I trust they will not forget that all this is set down without prejudice.

[The end]
Israel Zangwill's essay: Concerning General Elections