A Parliamentary Election
London, 13th June.
Election for a Member of Parliament.
The cities of London and Westminster send, the one four, and the other two, members to parliament. Mr. Fox is one of the two members for Westminster. One seat was vacant, and that vacancy was now to be filled. And the same Sir Cecil Wray, whom Fox had before opposed to Lord Hood, was now publicly chosen. They tell me that at these elections, when there is a strong opposition party, there is often bloody work; but this election was, in the electioneering phrase, a "hollow thing"--i.e. quite sure, as those who had voted for Admiral Hood now withdrew, without standing a poll, as being convinced beforehand their chance to succeed was desperate.
The election was held in Covent Garden, a large market-place in the open air. There was a scaffold erected just before the door of a very handsome church, which is also called St. Paul's, but which, however, is not to be compared to the cathedral.
A temporary edifice, formed only of boards and wood nailed together, was erected on the occasion. It was called the hustings, and filled with benches; and at one end of it, where the benches ended, mats were laid, on which those who spoke to the people stood. In the area before the hustings immense multitudes of people were assembled, of whom the greatest part seemed to be of the lowest order.
To this tumultuous crowd, however, the speakers often bowed very low, and always addressed them by the title of "gentlemen." Sir Cecil Wray was obliged to step forward and promise these same gentlemen, with hand and heart, that he would faithfully fulfil his duties as their representative. He also made an apology because, on account of his long journey and ill-health, he had not been able to wait on them, as became him, at their respective houses. The moment that he began to speak, even this rude rabble became all as quiet as the raging sea after a storm, only every now and then rending the air with the parliamentary cry of "Hear him! hear him!" and as soon as he had done speaking, they again vociferated aloud an universal "huzza," every one at the same time waving his hat.
And now, being formally declared to have been legally chosen, he again bowed most profoundly, and returned thanks for the great honour done him, when a well-dressed man, whose name I could not learn, stepped forward, and in a well-indited speech congratulated both the chosen and the choosers. "Upon my word," said a gruff carter who stood near me, "that man speaks well."
Even little boys clambered up and hung on the rails and on the lamp-posts; and as if the speeches had also been addressed to them, they too listened with the utmost attention, and they too testified their approbation of it by joining lustily in the three cheers and waving their hats.
All the enthusiasm of my earliest years kindled by the patriotism of the illustrious heroes of Rome. Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, and Antony were now revived in my mind; and though all I had just seen and heard be, in fact, but the semblance of liberty, and that, too, tribunitial liberty, yet at that moment I thought it charming, and it warmed my heart. Yes, depend on it, my friend, when you here see how, in the happy country, the lowest and meanest member of society thus unequivocally testifies the interest which he takes in everything of a public nature; when you see how even women and children bear a part in the great concerns of their country; in short, how high and low, rich and poor, all concur in declaring their feelings and their convictions that a carter, a common tar, or a scavenger, is still a man--nay, an Englishman, and as such has his rights and privileges defined and known as exactly and as well as his king, or as his king's minister--take my word for it, you will feel yourself very differently affected from what you are when staring at our soldiers in their exercises at Berlin.
When Fox, who was among the voters, arrived at the beginning of the election, he too was received with an universal shout of joy. At length, when it was nearly over, the people took it into their heads to hear him speak, and every one called out, "Fox! Fox!" I know not why, but I seemed to catch some of the spirit of the place and time, and so I also bawled "Fox! Fox!" and he was obliged to come forward and speak, for no other reason that I could find but that the people wished to hear him speak. In this speech he again confirmed, in the presence of the people, his former declaration in parliament, that he by no means had any influence as minister of State in this election, but only and merely as a private person.
When the whole was over, the rampant spirit of liberty and the wild impatience of a genuine English mob were exhibited in perfection. In a very few minutes the whole scaffolding, benches, and chairs, and everything else, was completely destroyed. and the mat with which it had been covered torn into ten thousand long strips, or pieces, or strings, with which they encircled or enclosed multitudes of people of all ranks. These they hurried along with them, and everything else that came in their way, as trophies of joy; and thus, in the midst of exultation and triumph, they paraded through many of the most populous streets of London.
Whilst in Prussia poets only speak of the love of country as one of the dearest of all human affections, here there is no man who does not feel, and describe with rapture, how much he loves his country. "Yes, for my country I'll shed the last drop of my blood!" often exclaims little Jacky, the fine boy here in the house where I live, who is yet only about twelve years old. The love of their country, and its unparalleled feats in war are, in general, the subject of their ballads and popular songs, which are sung about the streets by women, who sell them for a few farthings. It was only the other day our Jacky brought one home, in which the history of an admiral was celebrated who bravely continued to command, even after his two legs were shot off and he was obliged to be supported.
I know not well by what means it has happened that the King of England, who is certainly one of the best the nation ever had, is become unpopular. I know not how many times I have heard people of all sorts object to their king at the same time that they praised the King of Prussia to the skies. Indeed, with some the veneration for our monarch went so far that they seriously wished he was their king. All that seems to shock and dishearten them is the prodigious armies he keeps up, and the immense number of soldiers quartered in Berlin alone. Whereas in London, at least in the city, not a single troop of soldiers of the King's guard dare make their appearance.