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WANTED, AN ELISHA.
"TjlNGLAND," wrote Lord Beaconsfield, in one of the most I i characteristic of his novels, "must be saved by her young men." One does not quite know what is meant by it, nor whether he meant anything at all. The remark has that frequent peculiarity of its author's more sententious utterances, that, though its pregnancy seems palpable, it disappoints the efforts of the critical accoucheur. But however indefinite as a proposition, there is no doubt about its import as a sentiment. It is only one of many expressions of Lord Beaconsfield's unbounded, and, as it turned out, abiding sympathy with the aspirations and the efforts, the enthusiasms and the energies—with, in short, the whole moral and intellectual nisus of youth. That in his own case he too often mistook aspirations for inspirations,there, can, at this time of day,I imagine,be no question; and he has certainly left behind him critical estimates, apparently serious, of his contemporaries in which he has fallen into the same generous error. But it is to the credit of his heart at any rate, that his faith in youth as a force survived the inevitable discovery of its insufficiency as a guide, and that this faith remained a green oasis in the desert of his cynicism to the last. Si la jeunesse savait, si la vieillesse pouva.it, was a lament of which the latter clause impressed him always more than the former. The wisdom of old age always appeared to him rather dearly bought by the loss of the power of youth; and if it be not given to man to combine them, one imagines that of the two he would have declared for the power, and taken his chance of the wisdom. Nothing, at all events, is more certain than that throughout his life he took a special interest in the fortunes, a peculiar pleasure in watching the ways, of the young; and one cannot help wishing that it might be possible for him, in some other phase of being, to observe, with the half-amusement, half-admiration, which it would have aroused in him in lifetime, the dashing attack just delivered by the member for Woodstock against the chiefs of his party. Not of course that Lord Randolph Churchill is, in any sense of the word, so juvenile as it suits some of his opponents to pretend. A politician of thirty-four, who has been nine years in Parliament, has neither the advantage nor the disadvantage of extreme youth— neither its powerful hold upon the sympathies, nor its unauthoritative appeal to the judgment. His years are respectable, and there are no conspicuous marks of immaturity about either his oratory, his manner, or his mind. Still he is young in what we may call the conventional Parliamentary sense of the word—that is to say, he is under forty, and has never held one of those subordinate Ministerial offices which are assumed by courtesy in this country to add a dozen years to the age. His revolt from the rule of the "Junta," as he calls them, has therefore an air of far greater audacity to the English eye than would have belonged to any similar movement on the part even of the youngest and least important of the occupants of the front Opposition bench. The public insist on regarding it as the sally of a clever but presumptuous youth; and the mere fact that this is the general view of it may well be supposed to make it interesting to the shade of Lord Beaconsfield.
One thing however is, I think, certain, that that shrewd critic and experienced professor of Parliamentary fence would have been far less shocked at the presumption of the performance, than many of its actual observers. Those indeed who are excessively scandalized at it are probably unaware of the peculiar position occupied by Lord Randolph Churchill in the House of Commons. It is only fair to him to admit that a right appreciation of this point would probably modify many of the more severe judgments which have been passed upon him. Lord Randolph Churchill is one of the few, and one of the best of the few debaters, in the strict sense of the word, in the House of Commons; he shines in the art of debate in a sense in which the official chiefs of his party are rather sadly to seek. They, of course, are all more or less effective speakers upon set occasions: with their official experience they could not well be otherwise. Outside their ranks, too, there are no doubt many Conservative members who can speak fairly well on great political questions, with a sufficient time allowed them to think over the subject, and who, as they are wise enough not to address the House as a rule without this preparation, are listened to with respect. But that is not "debating" of the kind in which Mr. Disraeli excelled, and in which Lord Randolph Churchill is justly conscious of proficiency. The ability to make half a dozen impromptu speeches in the course of an evening, upon an equal number of previously unconsidered subjects, and to talk sensibly, vigorously, pointedly, and damagingly to one's adversaries, upon all of them, Las always been a rare faculty in the House of Commons; and on the Conservative benches it was never, perhaps, so rare as it is to-day. The exceptional possession of such readiness, the natural pride in its exercise, the observation of its deficiency in those around one, and still more in those above one, may very well excuse a clever and ambitious man of four-and-thirty for overrating its importance. Between it and the capacity for devising a legislative policy, or for wisely planning an electoral campaign, there is, of course, all the difference between tactics and strategy. ■ A clever tactician may be nought as a strategist; a ready and expert debater may go quite beyond his tether in undertaking to teach his leaders how to reconstitute their party and reorganize victory; and this, I think, has happened to Lord Kandolph Churchill. All I mean by the foregoing remarks is, that the clever tactician is in this case especially pardonable for having mistaken himself for a master of strategy. Tactics count for so much in the everyday life of the House of Commons; they fill so large a space in the thoughts and the interest of every man in that House; success in them brings so much honour, and indeed so surely leads to that official life in which so many other and higher faculties are required, that the mistake in question is eminently natural, and is far from arguing any exceptional presumption or self-sufficiency in the man who makes it.
But, this act of justice rendered to the young Conservative insurgent, let us see what he makes of his insurrection. "What about "Elijah's mantle," and the marks whereby the missing Elisha shall be known? And first as to certain preliminary questions, which Lord Randolph Churchill has in form neglected, though he unconsciously supplies much valuable material for their determination in fact. It is essential to any systematic review of his main position that these outlying questions should be considered. Nothing tends so much to embarrass the solution of a problem as a doubt whether there is any problem to be solved. This the Royal Society discovered, to their chagrin, on the memorable occasion of their being hoaxed by Charles II.; and warned by their discomfiture, let us before attempting to find the devisee of "Elijah's mantle," seek an answer to the question, Is there any mantle?—an inquiry which will have, in its turn, to be postponed to the question, Has there been any Elijah? In other words, was the departed " prophet" a prophet indeed? and if so, was his prophetic power a devisable or inheritable asset? Should the former of these questions be found to require a negative answer, it would of course dispose of the latter. Should it prove that the so-called Elijah of the Conservatives, whatever may once have been true of him, was no Elijah when he died; should it appear that his miraculous gift had deserted, and his predictive afflatus misled him; that fire would no longer descend to Ins invocation, nor waters divide at the stroke of his mantle—why then perhaps wc may save ourselves the trouble of hunting for an Elisha. To the more devoted wearers of the primrose, the former of these questions will, I am of course aware, appear to be only saved by absurdity from downright irreverence; but full warrant for raising it is really to be derived from the admissions of the very disciple who is searching high and low—or everywhere, at any rate, except "high"—for his master's successor. For what has Lord Randolph Churchill himself told us about the administration of the affairs of the country, and the management of those of his party, during the six years of Lord Beaconsfield's Premiership? His account is a most melancholy one; it is a tale of neglect and misfeasance, within Parliament and without. "Finance/' he complains, "was left entirely to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in whose unaided hands deficits and floating debts grew apace." "The other heads of departments were all allowed to go their own way, doing what seemed good in their eyes." "There was no master-mind"- [no master-mind, when you are being led by a prophet!] "pervading and controlling every branch of the administration." "Election affairs and organization went to the dogs." "The care, the experience, the personal supervision which Mr. Disraeli, assisted by a few practised hands, had bestowed upon the preparations for the general election of 1874, disappeared." The " vigour of provincial organization" was "enervated by a weak but wide-spreading centralization." "A stupefying degree of over-confidence," a "foolish contempt for the adversary," a "fatally erroneous estimate of the revived influence of Mr. Gladstone"—such and such alone were the causes, " all of them prcventible," which "slowly but surely" brought about the disastrous result. "In short, a golden opportunity had been given to the Tories, but owing to the natural decay of Lord Beaconsfield's physical vigour, the opportunity was wasted and lost."
Far be it from me to dispute the accuracy of this historical survey; but what sort of a preamble does it make to the complaint that the Conservative party are suffering from the loss of their leader? The hand which did not control them has been removed by death; they are as sheep without a shepherd to lead them astray: that is what the lamentation amounts to. Let us suppose that the succession to the prototypal Elijah had remained for some time equally in doubt with that of Lord Eeaconsfield, and that in the meanwhile it had been possible for one of the "sons of the prophets" to deliver himself in somewhat of the same fashion upon the events of the Tishbite's closing career. Suppose he had complained that for the last five or six years of the prophet's life there had been no " master-mind" to denounce and correct the administration of Ahaziah. "Prediction and the king-warning business," imagine him exclaiming, "went to the dogs. Barrels of meal wasted, and cruses of oil failed, in defiance of the prophet's prohibitions. When the sons of his widowed landladies died, there was an end of them. The faith, the fire, the lofty yet humble consciousness of Divine inspiration with which the master had prepared the victory of Carmel, disappeared. In its place there came a stupefying over-confidence, a foolish contempt for the adversary, a fatally erroneous estimate of the revived influence of Baal. A golden opportunity had been given to Elijah for the completion of his prophetic work, but owing to the natural decay of his physical vigour the opportunity was wasted and lost. There lies his mantle, however, and if we could only find a proper person to put it on, there can be no doubt that he would at once be invested with all the miraculous powers which its late owner was able to exert in the plenitude of his vigour and the meridian of his career."
How would that sound? And yet its last proposition is, it must be remembered, a less paradoxical one than Lord Randolph Churchill's, in this—that Elijah's mantle was at least a visible, tangible, wearable, article of attire; whereas what we call Lord Beaconsfield's— to wit, the policy, the method, the secret, of the deceased leader—is only another name for something which may not have any independent existence at all. This policy, this method, this secret, may have died with its discoverer; the prophet may have taken his mantle away with him. Did he do so? What evidence is there that he has left it? or that it would work wonders if he has? To neither of these queries do Lord Randolph Churchill's letters and article supply any very definite and satisfactory answer; while the whole tenor of his latest criticism appears to suggest that the latter query, at any rate, must receive a negative reply. •
Is there any mantle? Was there ever any Elijah? These, as I have said, are the two questions which ought to be determined antecedently to any examination of the complaints of malcontent Conservatives. But let us, for the sake of the argument, agree to waire them. Let us admit the prophet, and the prophecy, and the heritable quality of the prophetic gift. Let us acknowledge Elijah, and believe in the mantle as a sort of spiritualistic unattached garment, floating about in mid-air like one of the late Mr. Home's accordions, until the moment when it is to descend upon the shoulders of the predestined Elisha.
And now, where and who is the predestined Elisha? Lord Randolph Churchill has been roundly accused of designating himself as the prophet's successor—roundly, but not, I think, quite fairly. His position, as I understand it, is rather that of one of those " sons of the prophets" who went out to meet Elisha on the bank of the Jordan, and were convinced, by his miracle of dividing its waters, that