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drastic remedies of the Commissioners. 'Q's' letter turned the tide.
At this time the Saturday Review had, in the person of John Douglas Cook, an editor whose native shrewdness almost rivalled that of Delane himself. His journal, also, had joined in censuring the report, and in ridiculing the fads of fashionable physicians and others; but as soon as his quick eye lighted on the letter in the Times, he detected the writer, and without loss of a moment was off to the residence of Sir Richard Quain. I want' (he said) a series of articles at once on this cattle plague.' It was in vain the busy physician protested that he had no time, and was not up to the slashing style of the Saturday.' Cook would take no refusal. The result being that Sir Richard Quain contributed a series of eight articles, which gave the public the fullest information in the most readable form, and which remain to this day the best commentary on the labours of the Royal Commission of 1865.
Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary, on January 12, . 1866, introduced the Cattle Plague Bill, one of the provisions of which was the compensation of farmers and landlords who were compelled by the Government to kill their beasts. The ravages of the disease were appalling: out of 120,000 cases of disease nearly 74,000 had died, and some 17,000 had been killed, only a trifle over 14,000 having recovered, and the remainder, at the time of the report, being under treatment. The rinderpest was, indeed, nothing short of a national disaster; and the Bishop of London appointed a Day of Humiliation on account of it.
The new democratic era had, however, set in. John Bright vigorously opposed the compensation clause. It would be a public grievance, he urged, if the money of the taxpayer were applied to the compensation of wealthy landowners. Lowe replied, pointing out that it was not proposed to compensate people for what they had lost, but for what they had lost
through the direct agency of the Government by the enforced destruction of their property for the public good. John Stuart Mill, the newly elected member for Westminster, then rose to make his maiden speech in the House of Commons, in which he supported Bright's contention. His speech, he tells us in his Autobiography, 'was thought at the time to have helped to get rid of a provision in the Government measure which would have given to landholders a second indemnity, after they had already been once indemnified for the loss of some of their cattle by the increased selling price of the remainder.'
On a subsequent evening Lowe challenged this argument: Has not the English cattle-producer (he said) to meet powerful competition, and will not enhanced prices increase an importation of 10,000 head of cattle to 20,000? That which is to be the indemnification of the English landholder, according to Mr. Mill, will have to be divided with all Europe and America.'
Mill replied that the effect of a scarcity in any commodity was a rise in price out of all proportion to that scarcity.
In this contention it is not to be doubted that Mill argued the matter on economic grounds and in perfect good faith, though it always seemed to Lord Sherbrooke with a democratic bias unworthy of his great reputation as a philosopher. Bright and his followers, he thought, were entirely swayed by a blind hatred of the landed gentry; and he augured from the debate that injustice and wrong would always find eloquent tongues to uphold them in proportion as the orators owed their public positions to the votes of vast heterogeneous and discontented masses of men. Nor was Robert Lowe alone in contrasting the conduct of John Bright and the urban democracy towards the farmers and landholders, heavily smitten by this terrible calamity, with the magnificent liberality of the landlords of England, headed by Lord Derby, towards the factory hands of Lancashire during the hard times of the cotton famine produced by the American Civil War.
The following letter to his brother doubtless gives a faithful reflex of his feelings and thoughts on the subject at this time.
Robert Lowe to Henry Sherbrooke of Oxton.
Sherbrooke, Caterham: Dec. 6, 1865. My dear Henry,—If it will suit you, we will come to you on Tuesday, 26th. I suppose the best train is 11.30, Midland. If anything better is to be done, perhaps you will let me know. I am astonished at two things: first, the fatuity of the public who allow the country to be overrun with the Rinderpest when a certain remedy is in their hands; the second, the folly of the Government, who are actually going to bring in a Reform Bill, making their game on Bright & Co. and disgusting two-thirds of their best supporters. I begin to think that either I or the rest of the world is going mad, and am rather afraid, according to the old joke, that they will outvote me.
I hope you will escape the cattle plague; but if you do not, remember, for your comfort, that there is no treatment, no remedy, no prophylactic that is of the least use; and don't throw good money after bad in whisky, sherry, or anything else. Kill those that are seized as soon as the disease declares itself, and separate the rest as well as you can. Meanwhile, I will try to turn out the
Your affectionate brother,
THE BATTLE WITH DEMOCRACY
(i.) The Inductive Argument
It is commonly, but erroneously, supposed that Robert Lowe's strenuous conflict with the rising democratic forces in this country commenced with his anti-Reform philippics, delivered in the House of Commons in 1866, against the Representation of the People Bill of the Russell-Gladstone Administration. The preceding chapters of this volume prove beyond the possibility of denial that he had long been possessed with an ever-increasing conviction that democracy was a parasite which, if allowed to grow on the British Constitution, would eventually kill the parent tree. For years he had been writing in the leading columns of the Times, against what is called Parliamentary Reform, a series of articles which would of themselves form an exhaustive treatise on the subject; and which impartially condemn both the great political parties whom he had long suspected of secretly conspiring to overreach each other as to who should be first in the attempt to gain the broad road leading to universal suffrage.
His sentiments were fully set forth in the remarkable speech on the second reading of the late Sir Edward Baines's Borough Franchise Extension Bill, delivered in the House of Commons on May 23, 1865. This speech, republished in 1867,' passed through several editions-a mere glance at
1 Speeches and Letters on Reform, with a Preface. By the Right Hon. R. Lowe, M.P. (Bush, 1867.)
which would have saved contemporary compilers from falling into error. It will thus be seen that when, after the death of Lord Palmerston, the Liberal Ministry was reconstructed under Earl Russell and Mr. Gladstone, who had decided to make Reform their trump card, Robert Lowe was very naturally not invited to join them, for the simple reason that his antagonism to that policy was only too well known. He, of course, did not expect to be invited; but this is quite a different reading of our parliamentary annals to that which assumes that he opposed the Russell-Gladstone Bill because his claims to a seat in the Cabinet had been overlooked.
The speech on the Borough Franchise Bill of 1865 well deserves thoughtful attention, for it exactly defines Lowe's attitude, not only towards the extension of the franchise, but also with regard to the wider questions of the basis of law and the authority of government. A brief extract in reply to some arguments made use of by J. S. Mill and Mr. Gladstone will exactly show what is meant. Those eminent authorities had been urging on the House the pre-existing 'rights' of all classes to a share in the government of the country. Mr. Lowe replied:
Now, this kind of argument is the easiest in the world, and is widely different from that style of reasoning which the House is in the habit of demanding from its members. Hon. gentlemen will, I believe, concur with me in thinking that the true view of the science of government is that it is not an exact science, that it is not capable of a priori demonstration, that it rests upon experiment, and that its conclusions ought to be carefully scanned, modified, and altered so as to be adapted to different states of society, or to the same state of society at different times. If so, nothing can be more difficult than to meet such concise and sweeping arguments as those to which I have referred, because a man who is careful to weigh what he has to say on a subject like this cannot put the results of an intricate and exhaustive process in a single sentence. And to what do the arguments of those who, like the Chancellor of the Exchequer [Mr. Gladstone], advocate the right of the working classes to be admitted to the exercise of the franchise amount? To that assumption of the à priori rights of man which formed the