BLTC Press Titles


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My Man Jeeves

P. G. Wodehouse


The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite


The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


The Secret Doctrine, Volume I Cosmogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


British history in the nineteenth century (1782-1901)

by George Macaulay Trevelyan

Excerpt:

The county voters, therefore, tended to be independent men. Their ranks contained all the landed gentry, the yeomen farming their own land, and many substantial citizens of unenfranchised cities and urban districts, who formed a specially numerous class in counties like Yorkshire and Lancashire. It is true that Rutland had two members, and the largest shire had no more.1 It is true that the borough members outnumbered the county members by four to one. But the county representation of England, unlike that of Scotland, at least gave some Parliamentary expression to a real section of popular feeling, even though in most counties it was mainly the feeling of the gentry. 'The voice of England,' it was said, 'spoke through her freeholders.' _

The greatest Whig and the greatest Tory triumphs were both countersigned by the county members. In April 1780, when the House passed Dunning's famous Resolution that 'the influence of the Crown has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished,' sixty-two members for English counties voted 'aye,' and only eight ' no.' And when, four years after, Pitt defeated Fox and North at the polls, the fact that the counties went with the young man and that the Yorkshire freeholders chose Wilberforce, in spite of the great Whig families, gave assurance that not the borough-owners only but England herself had turned against the Coalition. Finally, in COUNTY ELECTIONS 19

1 In 1821 Yorkshire obtained four members. Otherwise no English county had more or less than two until the Reform Bill.

July 1831, the English county members voted by ten to one for the Reform Bill that abolished the rotten boroughs.

Yet it would be a mistake to suppose that the counties were wholly free from electoral dictation. In some shires, where two or three great families, together irresistible, had^ agreed to divide the spoils of battle, no contests took place at all. In 1794 we read of Cumberland: 'This County is completely aristocratic. An election contest, which is said to have cost £100,000, happened in 1768, between the interests of the Duke of Portland and those of the Earl of Lonsdale. To prevent expences, these noblemen have agreed to send each one member.' And even in the most independent counties, though the contests were fought on political principles, the rival hosts were marshalled under the banners of great families who fought each other for the lead of the county, and who rode to the poll at the head of cavalcades of gentry and yeomen, their hats streaming with ribbons of yellow or blue.

This alliance between the spirit of aristocracy and the spirit of popular rights, each taking the other entirely for granted, was native of the soil of England. It was sanctified by custom, sport and hospitality, deeply pledged in the punchbowl, renewed in the hunting-field and at the race-meeting. It was the natural offspring of a healthy society based on widely diffused small properties and on the absence of very obvious economic oppression of class by class. The political spirit of the eighteenth century was based not on the equality but on the harmony of classes. It was far removed alike from the rebellious Radicalism and the reactionary Toryism which soon afterwards sprang up from the combined effect of the Industrial and the French Revolutions. Chatham's 'loyal Britons' had not yet become Burke's 'swinish multitude.' Poor and rich together took a patriotic pride in our ' free constitution,' which they continually contrasted with the slavery of . continental countries.

^» In such a society the members of the upper class were j singularly fortunate in their lot. A position of such complete social and political supremacy as theirs, so little challenged, and so closely identified in history and in popular opinion with the liberties of their country, has never perhaps been seen in any other age or land. In the government of the country and the Empire there was much to blame as well as to praise, but no aristocracy has ever better fulfilled the functions for the performance of which aristocracy specially exists, but in which it too often fails—the intelligent patronage of art, philosophy and literature, and the living of a many-sided and truly civilised life by means of wealth and leisure well applied. They look down on us, those fortunate beings, from the canvases of Gainsborough and Reynolds, with a self-satisfaction triumphantly justified.


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