Read CHAPTER XVIII - CONCERNING THE ACT OF CANVASSING of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on

Tories dread the restlessness of Radicals, and Radicals are in awe of the organization of Tories.  Beauchamp thought anxiously of the high degree of confidence existing in the Tory camp, whose chief could afford to keep aloof, while he slaved all day and half the night to thump ideas into heads, like a cooper on a cask: ­an impassioned cooper on an empty cask! if such an image is presentable.  Even so enviously sometimes the writer and the barrister, men dependent on their active wits, regard the man with a business fixed in an office managed by clerks.  That man seems by comparison celestially seated.  But he has his fits of trepidation; for new tastes prevail and new habits are formed, and the structure of his business will not allow him to adapt himself to them in a minute.  The secure and comfortable have to pay in occasional panics for the serenity they enjoy.  Mr. Seymour Austin candidly avowed to Colonel Halkett, on his arrival at Mount Laurels, that he was advised to take up his quarters in the neighbourhood of Bevisham by a recent report of his committee, describing the young Radical’s canvass as redoubtable.  Cougham he did not fear:  he could make a sort of calculation of the votes for the Liberal thumping on the old drum of Reform; but the number for him who appealed to feelings and quickened the romantic sentiments of the common people now huddled within our electoral penfold, was not calculable.  Tory and Radical have an eye for one another, which overlooks the Liberal at all times except when he is, as they imagine, playing the game of either of them.

‘Now we shall see the passions worked,’ Mr. Austin said, deploring the extension of the franchise.

He asked whether Beauchamp spoke well.

Cecilia left it to her father to reply; but the colonel appealed to her, saying, ‘Inclined to dragoon one, isn’t he?’

She did not think that.  ’He speaks... he speaks well in conversation.  I fancy he would be liked by the poor.  I should doubt his being a good public speaker.  He certainly has command of his temper:  that is one thing.  I cannot say whether it favours oratory.  He is indefatigable.  One may be sure he will not faint by the way.  He quite believes in himself.  But, Mr. Austin, do you really regard him as a serious rival?’

Mr. Austin could not tell.  No one could tell the effect of an extended franchise.  The untried venture of it depressed him.  ’Men have come suddenly on a borough before now and carried it,’ he said.

‘Not a borough like Bevisham?’

He shook his head.  ‘A fluid borough, I’m afraid.’

Colonel Halkettt interposed:  ’But Ferbrass is quite sure of his district.’

Cecilia wished to know who the man was, of the mediaevally sounding name.

’Ferbrass is an old lawyer, my dear.  He comes of five generations of lawyers, and he ’s as old in the county as Grancey Lespel.  Hitherto he has always been to be counted on for marching his district to the poll like a regiment.  That’s our strength ­the professions, especially lawyers.’

‘Are not a great many lawyers Liberals, papa?’

‘A great many barristers are, my dear.’

Thereat the colonel and Mr. Austin smiled together.

It was a new idea to Cecilia that Nevil Beauchamp should be considered by a man of the world anything but a well-meaning, moderately ridiculous young candidate; and the fact that one so experienced as Seymour Austin deemed him an adversary to be grappled with in earnest, created a small revolution in her mind, entirely altering her view of the probable pliability of his Radicalism under pressure of time and circumstances.  Many of his remarks, that she had previously half smiled at, came across her memory hard as metal.  She began to feel some terror of him, and said, to reassure herself:  ’Captain Beauchamp is not likely to be a champion with a very large following.  He is too much of a political mystic, I think.’

’Many young men are, before they have written out a fair copy of their meaning,’ said Mr. Austin.

Cecilia laughed to herself at the vision of the fiery Nevil engaged in writing out a fair copy of his meaning.  How many erasures! what foot-notes!

The arrangement was for Cecilia to proceed to Itchincope alone for a couple of days, and bring a party to Mount Laurels through Bevisham by the yacht on Thursday, to meet Mr. Seymour Austin and Mr. Everard Romfrey.  An early day of the next week had been agreed on for the unmasking of the second Tory candidate.  She promised that in case Nevil Beauchamp should have the hardihood to enter the enemy’s nest at Itchincope on Wednesday, at the great dinner and ball there, she would do her best to bring him back to Mount Laurels, that he might meet his uncle Everard, who was expected there.  At least he may consent to come for an evening,’ she said.  ’Nothing will take him from that canvassing.  It seems to me it must be not merely distasteful...?’

Mr. Austin replied:  ’It ‘s disagreeable, but it’s’ the practice.  I would gladly be bound by a common undertaking to abstain.’

’Captain Beauchamp argues that it would be all to your advantage.  He says that a personal visit is the only chance for an unknown candidate to make the people acquainted with him.’

’It’s a very good opportunity for making him acquainted with them; and I hope he may profit by it.’

‘Ah! pah!  “To beg the vote and wink the bribe,"’ Colonel Halkett subjoined abhorrently: 

       “’It well becomes the Whiggish tribe
        To beg the vote and wink the bribe.”

Canvassing means intimidation or corruption.’

‘Or the mixture of the two, called cajolery,’ said Mr. Austin; ’and that was the principal art of the Whigs.’

Thus did these gentlemen converse upon canvassing.

It is not possible to gather up in one volume of sound the rattle of the knocks at Englishmen’s castle-gates during election days; so, with the thunder of it unheard, the majesty of the act of canvassing can be but barely appreciable, and he, therefore, who would celebrate it must follow the candidate obsequiously from door to door, where, like a cross between a postman delivering a bill and a beggar craving an alms, patiently he attempts the extraction of the vote, as little boys pick periwinkles with a pin.

‘This is your duty, which I most abjectly entreat you to do,’ is pretty nearly the form of the supplication.

How if, instead of the solicitation of the thousands by the unit, the meritorious unit were besought by rushing thousands? ­as a mound of the plains that is circumvented by floods, and to which the waters cry, Be thou our island.  Let it be answered the questioner, with no discourteous adjectives, Thou fool!  To come to such heights of popular discrimination and political ardour the people would have to be vivified to a pitch little short of eruptive:  it would be Boreas blowing AEtna inside them; and we should have impulse at work in the country, and immense importance attaching to a man’s whether he will or he won’t ­enough to womanize him.  We should be all but having Parliament for a sample of our choicest rather than our likest:  and see you not a peril in that?

Conceive, for the fleeting instants permitted to such insufferable flights of fancy, our picked men ruling!  So despotic an oligarchy as would be there, is not a happy subject of contemplation.  It is not too much to say that a domination of the Intellect in England would at once and entirely alter the face of the country.  We should be governed by the head with a vengeance:  all the rest of the country being base members indeed; Spartans ­helots.  Criticism, now so helpful to us, would wither to the root:  fun would die out of Parliament, and outside of it:  we could never laugh at our masters, or command them:  and that good old-fashioned shouldering of separate interests, which, if it stops progress, like a block in the pit entrance to a theatre, proves us equal before the law, puts an end to the pretence of higher merit in the one or the other, and renders a stout build the safest assurance for coming through ultimately, would be transformed to a painful orderliness, like a City procession under the conduct of the police, and to classifications of things according to their public value:  decidedly no benefit to burly freedom.  None, if there were no shouldering and hustling, could tell whether actually the fittest survived; as is now the case among survivors delighting in a broad-chested fitness.

And consider the freezing isolation of a body of our quintessential elect, seeing below them none to resemble them!  Do you not hear in imagination the land’s regrets for that amiable nobility whose pretensions were comically built on birth, acres, tailoring, style, and an air?  Ah, that these unchallengeable new lords could be exchanged for those old ones!  These, with the traditions of how great people should look in our country, these would pass among us like bergs of ice ­a pure Polar aristocracy, inflicting the woes of wintriness upon us.  Keep them from concentrating!  At present I believe it to be their honest opinion, their wise opinion, and the sole opinion common to a majority of them, that it is more salutary, besides more diverting, to have the fools of the kingdom represented than not.  As professors of the sarcastic art they can easily take the dignity out of the fools’ representative at their pleasure, showing him at antics while he supposes he is exhibiting an honourable and a decent series of movements.  Generally, too, their archery can check him when he is for any of his measures; and if it does not check, there appears to be such a property in simple sneering, that it consoles even when it fails to right the balance of power.  Sarcasm, we well know, confers a title of aristocracy straightway and sharp on the sconce of the man who does but imagine that he is using it.  What, then, must be the elevation of these princes of the intellect in their own minds!  Hardly worth bartering for worldly commanderships, it is evident.

Briefly, then, we have a system, not planned but grown, the outcome and image of our genius, and all are dissatisfied with parts of it; but, as each would preserve his own, the surest guarantee is obtained for the integrity of the whole by a happy adjustment of the energies of opposition, which ­you have only to look to see ­goes far beyond concord in the promotion of harmony.  This is our English system; like our English pudding, a fortuitous concourse of all the sweets in the grocer’s shop, but an excellent thing for all that, and let none threaten it.  Canvassing appears to be mixed up in the system; at least I hope I have shown that it will not do to reverse the process, for fear of changes leading to a sovereignty of the austere and antipathetic Intellect in our England, that would be an inaccessible tyranny of a very small minority, necessarily followed by tremendous convulsions.