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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 63

Chapter III

Chapter III.

The applause of listening Senates to command;
The threats of pain and ruin to despise;
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their history in a nation's eyes.
Gray's Elegy.

When the first representative Assembly of New Zealand met, this Colony could look with pride upon a body of men confessedly equal, if not superior, to any other Colonial Parliament. In oratory, in statesmanship, in demeanour, perhaps no Assembly save the famous Convention which declared the independence of the American States ever approached so nearly to the standard of an English Parliament. There were many causes conducing to an end so happy. The Provinces were themselves newly formed. In every special settlement there were a few men who naturally by force of character were leaders among their fellows. And these were nearly all men not only of exceptional vigour and ability, but also men of sterling moral worth. Thus the Hengists and Horsas of the tiny Colonies came together into council to deliberate and work, for the public good. The Parliament of New Zealand sprang like Minerva from the head of Jupiter, complete in stature and equipment. But few of those men remain in the Assembly, and they have outlived their reputation. Twenty years ago Fox had not run mad upon one subject, nor Stafford upon another. Twenty years ago Fitzherbert was not merely a leader of free lances; he had not I sunk into the position of a "sturdy beggar." But even yet, as a fragment of sculpture dug from the ruins of the Parthenon speaks of the glorious past, when there is some question of grave political importance before the House, the voice of Fox, or Stafford, or Fitzherbert will enchain the attention of members and recall something of the eloquence and arguments of the days gone by. The members of that Assembly are scattered far and wide. Some are gone "upon that bourne from whence no traveller returns," and the places which once knew them shall know them no more for ever. Some have retired from political life. One governs with credit and approval an English Colony. One page 8 sits upon the New Zealand Bench, and would adorn the Bench of any of the Courts at Westminster. Some fill high offices under the Government. It is pleasant now from the barefaced corruption and the unblushing degradation of the present to look back to the honourable past. Those were in truth the morning—the halcyon—hours of the New Zealand day. The eloquence of FitzGerald, the critical accuracy of Richmond, the scholarship of Carleton, the suavity of Weld—these are but memories now, but memories treasured deeply by those who are fortunate enough to possess them. The very names, like sudden bursts of martial music, fire the heart and make the blood dance quickly through the veins of those who can look back over the stream of time for twenty years. To compare them with the servile and wretched crew which now holds sway where they once reigned, would be like comparing that Roman Senate which met and conquered Hannibal and Carthage, with that other Senate which trembled at the frown and kissed the feet of the most worthless of the Cæsars. To compare them would be to place side by side a squadron of the Life Guards and Falstaff's ragged company, who were, according to their valiant captain, "slaves as ragged as Lazarus in the painted cloth, where the glutton's dogs licked his sores, discarded unjust serving men, younger sons to younger brothers, revolted tapsters and ostlers trade-fallen; the cankers of a calm world and a long peace. You would think I had a hundred and fifty prodigals lately come from swine-keeping, from eating draff and husks. No eye hath seen such scarecrows. There's but a shirt and a-half in all my company, and the half-shirt is two napkins tacked together and thrown over the shoulders like a herald's coat without sleeves. But that's all one; they'll find linen enough on every hedge." We will not compare them. The task is too invidious. How are the mighty fallen! In other Colonies the Houses of Parliament have been growing in ability, in uprightness, and popular favour. In New Zealand, however, this is not the case and although we started with the best of all Colonial Assemblies we have in twenty years sunk to the very lowest depth. There is not now throughout all the Empire a Parliament so venal, so selfish, or so unfit to govern a people as the House of Representatives of Now Zealand; and perhaps there never was. There are seventy-eight representatives. Among these there are honourable men, and men of ability, and men of scholastic attainments and political experience. But there are also men of a different stamp. There are men innocent of ability, devoid of honourable principle, guiltless of education, and whose only political experience consists in the skill with which they manage to exist upon the precarious favour of the Premier and his friends. And yet no great skill is requisite, for Julius Vogel is only too willing to command a majority in the House by such means, and to supply their little wants out of his own abounding fullness. Of these some eke out a precarious existence by means of small Government commissions, which do not disqualify them from sitting in Parliament. Others are supported by Mr Vogel upon the staff of various papers in the Colony, in which he and his friends hold a commanding interest. And it is remarkable, and indeed without parallel in any Anglo-Saxon Colony, that the Prime Minister should hold a large proportion of the newspaper press in his hands, not as a business speculation, but for two distinct objects—fret, that these papers may lead the public and uphold any scheme, however page 9 selfish, which it might suit their owner to originate; and second, that they afford an easy method of giving the wages of unrighteousness to any member of Assembly who, while open to such unhallowed influences, could possibly, through being a fifth-rate writer, be put upon the staff of a daily paper. To readers at a distance from New Zealand this may appear incredible; but it is a statement of sober fact, easily to be ascertained and proved. Others again are reached through their friends, or through hopes of personal or relative advantage. So easily obtainable are some that to be asked to the Premier's dinner parties, and to drink his wine, are sufficient to ensure their obedience. This may be accounted for, perhaps, by the fact that of these last some never saw such dinners before, much less tasted them. Unless report speaks falsely, Julius Vogel—who entered political life a poor man—spends in these dinners during the session more than his Ministerial salary and allowance. It is not impossible, however, that these entertainments may be charged, like the cost of the Ministerial residence itself, to the funds of a country which should be grateful to such a man when he spends its loans in this generous and princely fashion. In these ways nearly a third of the votes in the Assembly belong to Mr. Vogel and his friends. How long it may so continue remains to be decided by an indulgent and careless people. Beyond these the Premier can always count upon a large number of votes to support him in any important political change, inasmuch as in the House of Representatives there are so many antagonistic cliques, mostly Provincial, that what one party supports the other will always condemn.