Society in London, by a Foreign Resident

Smalley, George W.


CHAPTER X: Senate and Salon


CHAPTER X: Senate and Salon




THERE are several houses in London at any one of which one may be sure to meet a certain number of political celebrities. Such are the establishments of all persons in the first social rank who systematically entertain. Some of these have been already enumerated. Mrs. Jeune, who as a hostess has a recognized position, when she does not dissipate her efforts on Bohemianism, and when she arranges a dinner to which she attaches exceptional importance, can always secure a fair supply of ministers, exministers, or ministers yet to be. Sir Charles Forster is one of the chief Amphitryons of the Liberal party ; Mr. Gladstone is his frequent guest, and politicians, whether attached to the opposite party or unattached, are to be found at his board. The same may be said of Mr. Henry Edwards, who has made a fortune in the linseed trade, and who primarily lives that others may eat and drink their fill.

Then there are the Brasseys-Sir Thomas and Lady Brassey, I mean. Their house in Park Lane is noted for overgrown dinnerparties and for the receptions which Lady Brassey loves to designate by the epithet "small and early." Sir Thomas Brassey is reputed a good fellow. His manner is phlegmatic and fishlike. Perhaps the latter quality is the result of his extensive maritime experience. He bears no resemblance whatever in his countenance to his father, who was a man of decidedly distinguished appearance as well as enormous business capacities. He writes books, or is the cause of writing books by others, just as Lady Brassey writes journals which are presented to the public in the


guise of splendidly illustrated volumes. Lady Brassey appears to order her existence upon the lines which may have been suggested by a social empress on the burlesque stage. She is an excellent and exemplary woman in every relation of life, as wife, mother, and sister-in-law; she, therefore, only resembles the grand- duchess in her love of authority and ceremonial. She has a passion almost Oriental for a retinue. She reminds one of the lady in the nursery-rhyme who, with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, insisted upon having music wherever she went. The simplest journey is converted by her into a royal progress. There must be equipages and outriders, the paraphernalia of a cortege. She would like that her arrival at any given point should be announced by a peal of bells from the neighboring spire or a .

Devoted to "Tom" as she is, she prefers to make her pilgrimages by herself, accompanied only by her satellites. "Tom's " presence detracts from the attention which she excites. Tom may well be content to follow in a modestly closed brougham, while her ladyship reveals her imperial splendor, seated in an open barouche, to the gaping multitude. It is the same thing when she goes to the theatre or the opera. She has her people about her, and behind her chair there is tolerably certain to stand Mr. Roger Eykyn, a stock-broker by profession, a hanger-on and a connection of the nobility by a matrimonial accident.

There are other ladies of the Liberal or Conservative party, or of no party whatever, who deserve to be celebrated in these pages. Lady Hayter I have already mentioned: she is beyond all comparison the great hostess of the Liberals. Her house, with its exquisite dining-room, its perfect suite of reception-rooms, and its convenient ball-room, lends itself marvellously well to the ends of hospitality. Thought and judgment are also as apparent as amiable intention in the catalogue of the company invited to her dinners and her evenings. She has done in fact what very few women in London have been able to do for their menage; she has succeeded in investing her entertainments with dignity and importance. In this respect she resembles, even though at a considerable interval, Lady Palmerston, who so contrived her reunions that every one assisting at them felt that he was indebted to his hostess for a compliment personal to himself. Lady Hayter is one of the most comme-il-faut ladies in London. Her toilets are the


perfection of taste, and invariably serve with her as the frame of a charming picture. She never dons a bonnet or a frock, selects a color or jewel, without being satisfied of its applicability to the figure, face, and complexion with which nature has endowed her. Her presence is not lacking in dignity, and the charm of her expression is the more piquant because it possesses a certain tinge of melancholy.

Prominent among the eclectic and impartial entertainers of politicians is Lady Dorothy Nevill. She does not indeed give dinnerparties, but has organized a scheme of Sunday, and occasionally week-day, luncheons, much appreciated by those who have the entree of the house. Her ladyship is discriminatingly indiscriminate in her selection of guests, and makes with much success raids into Bohemia, returning now with an author or journalist of repute, now with an actor or actress. She knows everybody: has been the confidante of statesmen, field-marshals, bishops, and diplomatists. Apropos, note the difference thus indicated between the French and English woman: the latter talks, advises, criticises; the former sits still and expects to be admired. The one asks for confidence, the other for homage. Lady Dorothy Nevill hears everything. To her London society is one long whispering-gallery. She herself occupies a position midway down the corridor, and not a voice or footfall sounds without reaching her ears. She is also extensively popular, and, strange to say, she is liked by women as well as by men. She has made few enemies of her own sex; or, if these exist, there is scarcely one who, from the knowledge that public opinion would be hostile to her if she were to avow her hostility, would dare to reveal it. The great charm in Lady Dorothy Nevill's manner is not merely the frankness and the absence of affectation, but the union of detachment from the incidents and persons amid which she lives, with minute knowledge of, and keen personal interest in, them. This detachment is a quality which appeals to the intellect and charms the imagination. It gives one the notion of a reserve, a suppressed power of character, and has secured Lady Dorothy Nevill friends and admirers among men of the greatest distinction of the century. In politics she is a democratic Tory. As a Tory she touches hands with, and regales upon clarets and cutlets, Sir Stafford Northcote and Lord Salisbury; as a democrat she is at home to Mr. Chamberlain or Mr. Bright; while in Lord Randolph Churchill, who is her delight, she recognizes the connecting link between the two. When her company is a little perilously


mixed, and the atmosphere threatens to become electrical, she takes care that there shall be two or three lightning-conductors about her room, in the shape of a litterateur who will divert and disarm the destructive fluid; or an artist at the critical moment concentrates upon himself the attention of the guests, the heated controversialists included. This is Lady Dorothy Nevill's idea of a salon, and it is not a bad one.

Isabella, Countess of Wilton, is a hostess of a different order, less catholic in her tastes than Lady Dorothy Nevill, less various in her sympathies, but appreciative of other excellences than those of rank, social splendor, and beauty. An amiable and most hospitable lady this; consistently striving, too, while preserving the dignity of her feasts, to stamp upon them something of a character which shall be all their own. Lord Hartington, and those who are to be found where Lord Hartington is-the representatives of the diplomatic circle, the fine gentlemen and ladies who are accepted at the houses where samples of the best London society may at any moment be seen-these are to be found beneath the roof of Isabella, Countess, etc. Like Lady Dorothy Nevill, she is no respecter of political parties or personages, though she is conscious of a special power to entertain ambassadors. She may imagine herself a Tory, just as, from her conversation and the garniture of French phrases, it might be inferred that she at times imagined herself a Parisian grande dame; but the former would be as much of a delusion as the latter is of a habit.

I may here mention the name of another lady of title, often to be seen in the same company as Lady Wilton-Maria, Marchioness of Aylesbury. This personage is one of the most famous institutions in London society; one of the most imposing monuments of the grandness of a past regime. Wherever dukes or peers of high degree entertain, wherever royalty deigns to show itself, there will be found, as there has been to be found any time during the last half-century, the stately and unmistakable presence of Maria, Marchioness of, etc. The tall form, the aristocratic countenance, the frizzled wealth of the hair which in gracefully swelling protuberances decorates the side of her head, the many-colored toilets, the miraculous head-dresses, and the unique arrangement of jewels-these are the outward and visible signs of the lady who is more intimately at home in many great English households than any other of her sex.

Lady Reay, who has recently left England accompanying her husband, the new Governor of Bombay, was, and no doubt will be again on her return five years hence, a favorable specimen of the political hostess. She has much ambition; that she has much cleverness is proved by the career she has made for her husband, by his conversion from a Scotch into an English peer, and by his appointment to an important proconsulate. Formerly attached to the Liberal party, she is far from being a mere partisan. She had caused her house to take rank as one of the best in London, and she has quitted England just as her social star was attaining its ascendant. At Lady Reay's one might be sure upon occasions, at lunch or dinner on Sunday afternoon or at an evening party, to have met-though, indeed, for that matter they are to be met at many other houses the hospitalities of which are to-day in full swingsome of the most prominent members of the Liberal party.

If in London society to-day the grande dame is seldom to be met with, I must not be supposed to assert that ladies of high rank, uniting dignity and sweetness, whatever is most attractive in charm of manner and of mind, are wanting. There is no European capital where the superior of Lady Airlie, as a type of patrician matronhood, the intelligent and tactful woman of the world, preserving, now that her hair is silvered with years, much of the freshness and fascination of youth, can be seen. I might also point to Lady Stanhope and to Lady Lytton as veritable paragons and cynosures of their sex and order. Lady Holland is now little in London. But she seldom fails to pass some weeks of every summer at Holland House, Kensington-that monument to a departed social order, that depository of vanished social traditions. Her garden-parties remain among the chief events of society's summer in the metropolis, and have lost none of the air of distinction which was their original attribute.

Let me now revert from my social apercu to my political survey. Here I will suppose there stand before me-whether in Lady A's or Lady B's drawing-room does not much matter-three or four members of Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet, and a few other gentlemen who are either of Cabinet rank or are names with which a certain section of the European public is familiar.

The gentleman with the smooth-shaven face, the eye-glass, the inquiring expression of countenance, the hair brushed back, the lines indicating will strongly defined in the neighborhood of the


lips, is Mr. Chamberlain. His nose at once recalls the pictures and statues of the younger Pitt. Of Pitt's will he has much; Pitt's courage he shares; Pitt's high-toned patriotism he may yet display. He is an English statesman after the most approved fashion of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, first-rate as a man of business, prompt, ready, resourceful, courageous, courteous. I suppose no man after so short an experience of the House of Commons ever acquired such an authority in the country, or possessed an equal number of followers and enemies. With Mr. Chamberlain politics are not only the supreme object, but the one dominating aim, of existence. To these everything else is subordinated. He mixes with and is now well received by society in London, but, unlike some of his colleagues, he makes no secret of the fact that London society only occupies the second place in his affections, and that he will be no more subject to its constraints or obedient to its demands than may be necessary to his position or agreeable to his tastes.

You will meet him at some of the most eligible houses in the capital. He also entertains a good deal himself, though, as he is a widower, his parties are limited to men. He has in London some stanch allies and even enthusiastic admirers among women, and the little knot of smart ladies, which includes, among others, Lady Randolph Churchill, Lady Blanche Hozier, are fond of organizing entertainments of which he is the chief ornament and lion. He is, in fact, in London society very much what, thirty years ago, Mr. Bright was in the political society gathered round the House of Commons. The reality of him is less terrible than his name, and during the London season one encounters not a few people who, having expected to find in Mr. Chamberlain some fierce and aggressive person, profess their astonishment at discovering him to be a very agreeable gentleman with a large stock of conversational subjects, appreciative of humor, and light in hand. He is, however, one of the comparatively few English politicians who naturally talk about politics in society, and in a tone less cynical and more earnest than society is accustomed to hear.

For the rest, Mr. Chamberlain is a connoisseur of pictures, fond of the theatre, especially of the French play when it happens to be in London, an enthusiastic smoker, and, as a consequence of a capital constitution and a figure with no tendency to fatty degeneration, as superior as Lord Lyons himself to physical exercise,


and as free from malaise when that exercise is not forth-coming Mr. Chamberlain has many friends and admirers outside the limits of his own party. He can appreciate ability and courage, tactical skill and political capacity, in whomsoever these qualities may reside, and however bitterly they may be arrayed against him. Tories of so unimpeachable a kind as Mr. Gibson, Mr. Plunket, and Sir --to say nothing of and -are among his most frequent guests. Between himself and , of whom I have previously spoken at some length, there exists the closest and most loyal intimacy. They stand together, and they would fall together. The career of each depends upon reciprocal fidelity and mutual usefulness. One often hears comparisons drawn between the two men. The suggestion is even made that some day or other there may be developed a dangerous rivalry between them. Believe it not.

is a politician of imposing presence and a manner sometimes pompous, sometimes in a chastened fashion facetious. He is not only a Secretary of State, but a squire of dames, and can make himself an engaging companion to ladies of beauty or position. He is scarcely a popular man. Perhaps the general verdict of society would be that lie is unpopular. That is because he unites to the haughty reserve of the English aristocrat and the English statesman some of the idiosyncrasies of the legal and the literary temperament. He has a larger knowledge of English literature than any man, himself not excepted, now prominent in English political life. He had won his laurels as a writer long before his name was known in politics or he had laid the foundations of forensic fame. Unless I am mistaken, he wrote some exceedingly clever electioneering squibs as a mere lad. Subsequently he struck out into journalism, and acquired as perfect a mastery of the art as Lord Salisbury himself.

is the only other member of Mr. Gladstone's Cabinet who is identified with literature to the same extent as Sir William Harcourt, and in whose speeches traces of the same literary quality are forth-coming. He is the nephew of Macaulay, and from his uncle he inherited an admiring appreciation of the literary tradition of the Whigs. Since he has assumed the responsibilities of official life, he has proved that there is the stuff of a statesman in him. Mr. Lefevre, the youngest member of the Cabinet, has


also been a writer of books and articles. There is nothing brilliant or showy about him. He has great intellectual tenacity, has a native aptitude for administration, and is enamored of detail.

The two most conspicuous among the unattached forces in English politics are and . Neither of them can be felicitated on his manner. Both are men of considerable calibre, and with both, so long as they are alive, the Government and the Opposition of the day must count. Both, too, are frequently to be met with in the dining-rooms and drawing-rooms of the great, and I will venture to say that there is no one better acquainted with the political undercurrents of society's thought and conversation than Mr. Forster or Mr. Goschen. Perfectly honest and sincere as the latter of these is, I am not quite certain that he is entirely fitted for the political life of Great Britain. He combines with the academic knowledge-I might almost say the omniscience-of an Oxford scholar and a German professor something of the sinuosity of the Oriental. That is to say, the constraints of English party life, with the sharp and restricted choice of alternatives that they offer, appear irksome to him. The men who succeed in English statesmanship must attach themselves to one party or the other, and must give up all idea of a rapprochement with the opposite side. Mr. Goschen understands this perfectly in theory, but he does not reduce the theory to practice. There is nothing disingenuous about him. He is not an intriguer; he is a philosopher-too broad, too judicial, too far-seeing to be a partisan. Though he may yet have before him in England a great future, I am disposed to think that he would have done better if his lot had not been cast so far west.

If it be possible to conceive of the genius of unadulterated, rugged veracity, at once anxious to impress the world that this is its real character, and desirous of making friends with the mammon of unrighteousness by appearing in dress-clothes in drawingrooms and by sipping tea of an afternoon with ladies of rank, Mr. Forster goes far to realize such a conception. Born a Yorkshireman and a Quaker, he retains the demure pharisaisms of his religion, and he brings into prominent relief the astute idiosyncrasies of his nationality. He has the eye of an artist for popular effects. The most cautious and reticent of cats cannot long conceal from him how it will jump. He has, all praise to him, so closely and so transcendently to his own satisfaction associated himself with whatever

is honorable, fair, chivalrous, and n/oble, that he can never look in the glass without recognizing in his own image the reflected apostle of a holy cause. Inevitably, therefore, he magnifies his apostleship-and to magnify that, what is it but to glorify himself? Every one who knows him is persuaded that he is the incarnation of great qualities. So firmly is he persuaded of it, that he is incapable of believing that any qualities reside in him which are not great. Hence it follows that those who condemn or oppose him or stand in his way are not only vexing him with a personal antagonism, and irritating him by wounding his amour propre, but are making war against righteousness itself. How, then, can it be otherwise than his duty to visit with the extremity of his vengeance those who are guilty of this wanton impiety? and, be it said to his credit, he displays all a Yorkshireman's cleverness in exasperating and annihilating his foes. All Yorkshiremen are reputed to be fond of horses and of the turf. I have never heard that Mr. Forster is even a part owner of a racing-stud; but he is so far a sportsman that he is devoted to whist-a noble game, which he plays exceedingly ill, and at which his losses are sometimes heavy.

I have, I think, now fairly done duty to the political aspect of society in London. There is, however, one gentleman, more typical of the race than some of those I have just passed in review, about whom I cannot be silent. is the son of one of the greatest statesmen England has ever known; perhaps quite the greatest-Mr. Gladstone himself not excepted-as a domestic statesman. Illustrious in virtue of his descent, he is in virtue of himself and his personal endowments an English celebrity. He had a roaring youth; he has even had a resonant manhood. He is the exact antithesis of his famous sire in almost every respect. The most remarkable exception is his real, though frequently concealed, tolerance of opinions the opposite of those which he professes, and his clearness of political vision. Calling himself a Tory, no man knows better the shortcomings of the Tories, or has a deeper insight into the inevitable drift of affairs. In his speeches and in his private conversation he is a partisan, not infrequently a furious partisan. In his own mental estimate of men, of emergencies, and of the goal towards which things are going, no man is less of a partisan.

Herein he resembles his father, who knew that it was by the irony of fate that he was placed in the position of leader of the


Tory party, and that the tide was setting against Toryism as fatally and as irrevocably as the sun sinks to his rest in the west or the magnet points to the pole. In everything else what a contrast between the two ! Sir Robert, the father, was the grave, reserved, tranquil worshipper of the British proprieties, with an inborn terror or hatred of anything verging on the unseemly or the scandalous, superstitiously reverencing the conventional. He was a model school-boy, a model undergraduate, a model member of Parliament. Whatever the virtues of his son, he has owned allegiance to few of those restraints which his father venerated. He has between thirty and forty years' parliamentary experience, I believe refused Cabinet office, and has, I know, twice refused a peerage. But tranquillity is not his metier. He loves a stormy atmosphere. When tempest does not exist he has a knack of creating it, and he would always be fain to ride in the most conspicuous position on the crest of the wave. He is a big man with a big manner. He is no more to be ignored than the itself or , or any other colossal eminence. Tn society lie is the highly-bred man of the world, but he never allows himself to be effaced; and when he is in the society of men only, he is apt to be dogmatic, contradictory, paradoxical, inaccurate, not invariably observing the line which separates self-assertion from turbulence.

Were he a little younger, I should predict that he would be the accepted chief of the Tory democracy. He could live-no man better-in a whirlwind of democratic movement. He likes to sway the mob, and the mob has no objection to be swayed by him. His voice is as fine as his presence, and he has a gift of oratory which not a dozen men in England possess. Moreover, it is his special fondness digito monstrarier. He is not only an indefatigable attendant at the House of Commons-he never misses any sort of meeting, secular or religious, within a convenient distance of which he may happen to be, when there are no more pressing demands upon his time. Nothing pleases him more than to be gazed at as Sir Robert Peel, and when he is able, as is frequently the case, while gratifying his passion for notoriety, to acquire an insight into popular feeling, he is supremely happy. With his velvet collar, his tall hat rakishly placed at an angle on his head, his demeanor dashing, dignified, defiant, and sportsmanlike, he suggests iresistibly the master of the ring at a circus; his natural and indomitable humor, his love of fun and pun, his jesting audacity on the platform, fit


him for the part of Mr. Merriman. In London society he is often to be met with. His sister and brother-in-law, the. and Mr. Brandling, entertain much, and of course he visits them. He is on terms of intimacy with the Rothschilds and Bischoffsheims; rejoices to feast him; and, to descend to a slightly lower level, there is scarcely a house in London, belonging to those who inhabit the opulent portion of the frontier which separates society from Bohemia, where he is not at home.

Whether among the politicians I have or have not mentioned there is any one likely to fill a high place in the list of Europe's real statesmen, time must show. As yet I can see little more than a number of clever political managers and schemers in the department of the home affairs of England. What productive forces are there inherent in the democracy? What power has it of implanting energy, and inspiring action, in individuals? How is the principle of authority at home and abroad to be maintained under its supremacy? How are its passions to be curbed or its inertness to be dispelled? Who or what will be adequate to its discipline? Or is this democracy to prove fatal to England as an imperial state, and as a pattern and mother of constitutions to the world? These are the questions which are of vital moment both to Englishmen and foreigners. A few years must give the answer, but only a prophet could reply to them to-day.

The great fact in the political situation in England is that the party system which underlay political life for three centuries has broken down. Its machinery is exhausted or hopelessly out of repair. Its energies are distracted. What was once a whole is split up into factions and sects, which reduce each other to paralysis and impotence. There is only one progressive principle at work in English politics. It is Radicalism; it is the revolutionary spirit. I see before me a rabble of followers led by a few daring, astute, perhaps unscrupulous chiefs. What is the policy of these leaders? It is to plunge everything into the crucible. The more disturbing the issue, the more prompt they are to raise it. Every cause they support is an interest attacked. That is their universal method. They depreciate values by threatening property. One day it is land; the next it is incomes, from whatever source derived; wealth itself, because it is wealth, for which they propose a graduated tax. But to menace and destroy marks with them only the commencement. It is the essential preliminary to the process of reconstruction.


Having brought landlords and the owners of any kind of property to despair, and to the very brink of ruin, the Radical leaders turn round and say, " Halt! it is enough; we have satisfied you that you are in our hands, and that you ought to consider yourselves fortunate if you escape, we will not say with an acre or a sovereign, but with your life. However, we will be merciful. We are a great party. We can, therefore, afford to be just, to be generous. You shall retain positively the better part of that which is your own, be it land or money. The rest is for the State, for the public good, for us. Do you see in us your despoilers? Not so. Behold in us rather your saviours."

These, I repeat, are, so far as one can judge at present, the tactics of the Radical chiefs. They have no other strategy. Their one and only plan is to create a tempest in a teacup, a washing-basin, or a sponge-bath, and then to make a show of quelling it. To adopt a metaphor from the City, they are perpetually "bearing " stock in order that they may "bull" it. How long the English people will tolerate these grotesque and hazardous methods who shall say ? But is it not clear that, if they are persevered in, there must ultimately be little in England either to bull or to bear, and that it will be useless for Radicals to move the elements, to create the storm, because there will no longer exist the material of salvage to rescue?

On the other hand, what are the Conservatives? What are their aims and their policy? what their future? Their chief idea just now would seem to be to abuse their opponents for remaining in office, and to shrink from taking their place. In no single instance since the death of Beaconsfield have they shown the courage of their convictions. Their more active spirits are always seeking how they can outbid their opponents, how trump the socialistic card which the Radical plays. Lord Salisbury vies with Mr. Gladstone in pandering to Demos-the sole King in England. I see no sign of their resorting to any new expedient. There is no one among them who shows himself capable of grasping the situation, supplying by his own action and initiative what it needs. Disraeli was a man of commanding genius, who by an accident found himself at the head of the Conservative party. But he was not a Conservative. He succeeded because he was the cleverest man the Conservatives could find. He achieved a brilliant personal triumph, and he reflected its lustre upon his political followers. Naturally, therefore, when he departed the whole fabric was dissolved. Men


of his gifts will always be rare. The Conservatives, if they are to do anything, must not wait till Disraeli's genius re appears. May not, after all, mediocrity suit them better than genius? mediocrity of a high stamp, but mediocrity all the same. For instance, have they ever had a leader who did them better service, till he was overthrown, than the great Sir Robert Peel? He was a man of business pre-eminently. He had made the financial system of the country his study. The City trusted him. If the Conservatives are wise, they will see whether they cannot discover or develop another man of business upon the same lines as Sir Robert Peel. But is there a chance of this? It is in the knowledge and aptitude of business that the Conservatives are wanting. Many of them are ludicrously ignorant of affairs-more are the victims of fallacies and delusions. The nation of shopkeepers knows this too well. In its despair it trusts itself to the Liberals, not because it likes them or admires them, but because, of two evils, it prefers the evil which, rightly or wrongly, it considers the less.

There is one danger to themselves which the Radical politicians of England ought to reckon with. The English idol is respectability, and property is only a mode of respectability. In England no one is accounted respectable who has not got a balance at his banker's. When, therefore, the Radicals threaten, if they do threaten, property, they are making war upon the image which the true-born Briton bows down and worships. They therefore run the risk of being branded with the stigma of disrepute. In France it is ridicule which kills; in England it is the reproach of being disreputable. Gambetta tried to extinguish Clemenceau by calling him a disreputable politician. He never did him a greater service; but if Gambetta and Clemenceau had both been Englishmen, and the same language had been employed, very different consequences might have ensued.