Phineas Redux

By Anthony Trollope

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Temptation

The circumstances of the general election of 18– will be well remembered by all those who take an interest in the political matters of the country. There had been a coming in and a going out of ministers previous to that–somewhat rapid, very exciting, and, upon the whole, useful as showing the real feeling of the country upon sundry questions of public interest. Mr Gresham had been Prime Minister of England, as representative of the Liberal party in politics. There had come to be a split among those who should have been his followers on the terribly vexed question of the Ballot. Then Mr Daubeny for twelve months had sat upon the throne distributing the good things of the Crown amidst Conservative birdlings, with beaks wide open and craving maws, who certainly for some years previous had not received their share of State honours or State emoluments. And Mr Daubeny was still so sitting, to the infinite dismay of the Liberals, every man of whom felt that his party was entitled by numerical strength to keep the management of the Government within its own hands.

Let a man be of what side he may in politics–unless he be much more of a partisan than a patriot–he will think it well that there should be some equity of division in the bestowal of crumbs of comfort. Can even any old Whig wish that every lord lieutenant of a county should be an old Whig? Can it be good for the administration of the law that none but Liberal lawyers should become Attorney-Generals, and from thence Chief Justices or Lords of Appeal? Should no Conservative Peer ever represent the majesty of England in India, in Canada, or at St Petersburgh? So arguing, moderate Liberals had been glad to give Mr Daubeny and his merry men a chance. Mr Daubeny and his merry men had not neglected the chance given them. Fortune favoured them, and they made their hay while the sun shone with an energy that had never been surpassed, improving upon Fortune, till their natural enemies waxed impatient. There had been as yet but one year of it, and the natural enemies, who had at first expressed themselves as glad that the turn had come, might have endured the period of spoliation with more equanimity. For to them, the Liberals, this cutting up of the Whitehall cake by the Conservatives was spoliation when the privilege of cutting was found to have so much exceeded what had been expected. Were not they, the Liberals, the real representatives of the people, and, therefore, did not the cake in truth appertain to them? Had not they given up the cake for a while, partly, indeed, through idleness and mismanagement, and quarrelling among themselves; but mainly with a feeling that a moderate slicing on the other side would, upon the whole, be advantageous? But when the cake came to be mauled like that–oh, heavens! So the men who had quarrelled agreed to quarrel no more, and it was decided that there should be an end of mismanagement and idleness, and that this horrid sight of the weak pretending to be strong, or the weak receiving the reward of strength, should be brought to an end. Then came a great fight, in the last agonies of which the cake was sliced manfully. All the world knew how the fight would go; but in the meantime lord-lieutenancies were arranged; very ancient judges retired upon pensions; vice-royal Governors were sent out in the last gasp of the failing battle; great places were filled by tens, and little places by twenties; private secretaries were established here and there; and the hay was still made even after the sun had gone down.


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