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Past and Present: Thomas Carlyle, 1843

Book 4 Chapter 2: Bribery Committee

In the case of the late Bribery Committee, it seemed to be the conclusion of the soundest practical minds that Bribery could not be put down; that Pure Election was a thing we had seen the last of, and must now go on without, as we best could. A conclusion not a little startling; to which, it requires a practical mind of some seasoning to reconcile yourself at once! It seems, then, we are henceforth to get ourselves constituted Legislators not according to what merit we may have, or even what merit we may seem to have, but according to the length of our purse, and our frankness, impudence and dexterity in laying out the contents of the same. Our theory written down in all books and law-books, spouted forth from all barrel-heads, is perfect purity of ten-pound franchise, absolute sincerity of question put and answer given; - and our practice is irremediable bribery; irremediable, unpunishable, which you will do more harm than good by attempting to punish! Once more, a very startling conclusion indeed; which, whatever the soundest practical minds in Parliament may think of it, invites all British men to meditations of various kinds.

A Parliament, one would say, which proclaims itself elected and eligible by bribery, tells the Nation that is governed by it a piece of very singular news. Bribery: have we reflected what bribery is? Bribery means not only length of purse, which is neither qualification nor the contrary for legislating well; but it means dishonesty, and even impudent dishonesty; - brazen insensibility to lying and to making others lie; total oblivion, and flinging overboard for the nonce, of any real thing you can call veracity, morality; with dextrous putting on the cast-clothes of that real thing, and strutting about in them! What Legislating can you get out of a man in that fatal situation? None that will profit much, one would think! A Legislator who has left his veracity lying on the door-threshold, he, why surely he - ought to be sent out to seek it again!

Heavens, what an improvement, were there once fairly, in Downing-Street, an Election-Office opened, with a Tariff of Boroughs! Such and such a population, amount of property-tax, ground-rental, extent-of-trade; returns two Members, returns one Member, for so much money down: Ipswich so many thousands, Nottingham so many, - as they happened, one by one, to fall into this new Downing-Street Schedule A! An incalculable improvement, in comparison: for now at least you have it fairly by length of purse, and leave the dishonesty, the impudence, the unveracity all handsomely aside. Length of purse and desire to be a Legislator ought to get a man into Parliament, not with, but if possible without the unveracity, the impudence and the dishonesty! Length of purse and desire, these are, as intrinsic qualifications, correctly equal to zero; but they are not yet less than zero, as the smallest addition of that latter sort will make them!

And is it come to this? And does our venerable Parliament announce itself elected and eligible in this manner? Surely such a parliament promulgates strange horoscopes of itself. What is to become of a Parliament elected or eligible in this manner? Unless Belial and Beelzebub have got possession of the throne of this Universe, such Parliament is preparing itself for new reform-bills. We shall have to try it by Chartism, or any conceivableism, rather than put up with this! There is already in England ‘religion’ enough to get six-hundred and fifty-eight Consulting Men brought together who do not begin with a lie in their mouth. Our poor old Parliament, thousands of years old, is still good for something, for several things: - though many are beginning to ask, with ominous anxiety, in these days: ‘For what thing?’ But for whatever thing and things Parliament be good, indisputably it must start with other than a lie in its mouth! On the whole, a Parliament working with a lie in its mouth, will have to take itself away. To no Parliament or thing that one has heard of, did this Universe ever long yield harbour on that footing. At all hours of the day and night, some Chartism is advancing, some armed Cromwell is advancing, to apprise such Parliament: “Ye are no Parliament. In the name of God, - go!”

In sad truth, once more, how is our whole existence, in these present days, built on Cant, Speciosity, Falsehood, Dilettantism; with this one serious veracity in it: Mammonism! Dig down where you will, through the Parliament floor or elsewhere, how infallibly do you at spade’s depth below the surface, come upon this universal Liar’s-rock Substratum? Much else is ornamental; true on barrel-heads, in pulpits, hustings, Parliamentary benches; but this is forever true and truest: “money does bring money’s worth; Put money in your purse.” Here if nowhere else, is the human soul still in thorough earnest; sincere with a prophet’s sincerity: and ‘the Hell of the English,’ as Sauerteig said, ‘is the infinite terror of not getting on, especially of not making money.’ With results!

To many persons the horoscope of Parliament is more interesting than to me: but surely all men with souls must admit that sending members to Parliament by bribery is an infamous solecism; an act entirely immoral, which no man can have to do with, more or less, but he will soil his fingers more or less. No Carlton Clubs, Reform Clubs, nor any sort of clubs or creatures, or of accredited opinions or practices, can make a Lie Truth, can make Bribery a Propriety. The Parliament should really either punish and put away Bribery, or legalize it by some office in Downing-Street? As I read the Apocalypses, a Parliament that can do neither of these things is not in a good way. - And yet, alas, what of Parliaments and their Elections? Parliamentary Elections are but the topmost ultimate outcome of an electioneering which goes on at all hours in all places, in every meeting of two or more men. It is we that vote wrong, and teach the poor ragged Freemen of Boroughs to vote wrong. We pay respect to those worthy of no respect.

Is not Pandarus Dogdraught a member of select clubs, and admitted into the drawingrooms of men? Visibly to all persons he is of the offal of Creation; but he carries money in his purse, due lacker on his dog-visage, and it is believed will not steal spoons. The human species does not with one voice, like the Hebrew Psalmist, ‘shun to sit’ with Dogdraught, refuse totally to dine with Dogdraught; men called of honour are willing enough to dine with him, his talk being lively - and his champagne excellent. We say to ourselves, “The man is in good society,” - others have already voted for him; why should not I? We forget the indefeasible right of property that Satan has in Dogdraught, - we are not afraid to be near Dogdraught! It is we that vote wrong, blindly, nay with falsity prepense! It is we that no longer know the difference between human Worth and human Unworth; or feel that the one is admirable, and alone admirable, the other detestable, damnable! How shall we find out a Hero and Vice-king Samson with a maximum of two shillings in his pocket? We have no chance to do such a thing. We have got out of the Ages of Heroism, deep into the Ages of Flunkeyism, - and must return or die. What a noble set of mortals are we, who, because there is no Saint Edmund threatening us at the rim of the horizon, are not afraid to be whatever, for the day and hour, is smoothest for us!

And now, in good sooth, why should an indigent discerning Freeman give his vote without bribes? Let us rather honour the poor man that he does discern clearly wherein lies for him the true kernel of the matter. What is it to the ragged grimy Freeman of a Tenpound Franchise Borough whether Aristides Rigmarole Esquire, of the Destructive, or the Hon. Alcides Dolittle of the Conservative Party be sent to Parliament; - much more, whether the two-thousandth part of them be sent, for that is the amount of his faculty in it? Destructive or Conservative, what will either of them destroy or conserve of vital moment to this Freeman? Has he found either of them care, at bottom, a sixpence for him or his interests, or those of his class, or of his cause, or of any class or cause, that is of much value to God or to man? Rigmarole and Dolittle have alike cared for themselves hitherto, and for their own clique, and self-conceited crotchets, - their greasy dishonest interests of pudding, or windy dishonest interests of praise; and not very perceptibly for any other interest whatever. Neither Rigmarole nor Dolittle will accomplish any good or any evil for this grimy Freeman, like giving him a five-pound note, or refusing to give it him. It will be smoothest to vote according to value received. That is the veritable fact, and the indigent, like others that are not indigent, acts conformably.

Why reader, truly if they asked thee or me ‘which way we meant to vote?’ - were it not our likeliest answer: “Neither way!” I, as a Tenpound Franchiser, will receive no bribe; but also I will not vote for either of these men. Neither Rigmarole nor Dolittle shall, by furtherance of mine, go and make laws for this country. I will have no hand in such a mission. How dare I! If other men cannot be got in England, a totally other sort of men, different as light is from dark, as star-fire is from street-mud, what is the use of votings or of Parliaments in England? England ought to resign herself; there is no hope or possibility for England. If England cannot get her Knaves and Dastards ‘arrested’ in some degree, but only get them ‘elected,’ what is to become of England?

I conclude with all confidence that England will verily have to put an end to briberies, on her Election Hustings and elsewhere, at what cost soever; - and likewise that we, Electors and Eligibles, one and all of us, for our own behoof and hers, cannot too soon begin, at what cost soever, to put an end to bribeabilities in ourselves. The death-leprosy, attacked in this manner, by purifying lotions from without, and by rallying of the vital energies and purities from within, will probably abate somewhat! It has otherwise no chance to abate.

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