The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64
VI.—On Some Prominent Members
VI.—On Some Prominent Members.
[unclear: paraphrase] a remark of the late Thomas [unclear: e] it may be said that our House of Re-[unclear: atives] contains 88 members—[unclear: mostly] This may be apparent to the public; [unclear: enture] to think that it is not the opinion [unclear: dual] members—at all events, concern-[unclear: selves.] If we could ask them in the [unclear: genuous] way in which Ruth, in the [unclear: s] of Penzance." is asked, what [unclear: they] of themselves? I have no doubt they [unclear: wer] with a unanimity worthy of the policemen's responses in the same opera, "We think we are very fine politicians." There are two recognised leaders in the House, recognised by the country—Sir George Grey and Mr Hall, and both these men, as I have in former articles endeavored to show, are unworthy the position of Premier. There is a third man in the House worthy and capable of leading his party, and who, at no distant time, is going to lead it—Mr Ormond. But before proceeding to sum up the position page 10 of affairs generally, it will, I hope, not be thought tedious if I stop to look through the roll of members, and see if there be any one else in the House able to form, or assist in the formation of, a strong Government. The three classes of men who are either born great, who achieve greatness, or have greatness thrust upon them, are well represented among us. Indeed, it would be difficult to find a modest half-dozen representatives who are willing to wait patiently for the happening of the last contingency, for almost all those who do not consider themselves born great are quite satisfied in their own minds that in their sphere they have achieved it since. There are, probably, twenty members in the House who feel themselves perfectly competent to form and lead an Administration to-morrow, if called upon; and as for the number of those who consider they would form ornaments to a Cabinet, could we find six who would not accept the greatness of office, were it thrust upon them ever so lightly?
It would be invidious to proceed to any delineation of individual members without naming Sir George O'Rorke. If the degeneracy of the House be a subject for grief and lamentation among the older colonists, who recollect what really great men and great politicians it once contained, it is to them an unmixed feeling of satisfaction that the Speaker's robe has fallen on one who can, and does well, maintain the dignity of his office.
Sir Charles Clifford, the first Speaker who filled the chair, was a good speaker, but his successor was an excellent one. With what a feeling of kindliness and respect do we recall the form and features of Sir David Monro! A gentleman of the "old school," whose well-learnt deportment dignified his motions, while the clear, calm, deliberate tones of his voice could make his rulings heard above the storm of debate; replete with knowledge of the forms of the House, and possessing a keen appreciation of the importance of his office, he kept order among the members over whom he ruled with a pompous, dignified firmness that made his position and his decisions respected in the House.
Of Sir Francis Bell, who next filled the chair, little need be said. He has passed from the sphere of party strife to fill an office to which his merits and his services well entitle him. With a quick memory, stored with the early history of the country, possessed of information on colonial affairs which make him missed already, he was a keen debater and a ready and ornamental speaker. But his versatility marred his firmness of rule, and under him the Speakership fell somewhat into disrepute.
It remained for Sir William [unclear: Fitzh] however, to permit the ill-breeding [unclear: of] of the members to be freely [unclear: imparted] debate, and the whole tone of the [unclear: House] lowered by the license allowed to the [unclear: spe] With eyes closed, and without [unclear: mot] would sit, apparently heedless of the [unclear: con] events, like a figure freshly [unclear: transplanted] Madame Tussaud's Exhibition. The [unclear: poor] cannot be blamed who, taken to [unclear: the] for the first time, gazed on the [unclear: moti] form in the chair, and [unclear: trembli] asked her mother, "Is it alive?" [unclear: He] not alive to the duties of his position [unclear: If] ruling was asked, he gave it at great [unclear: le] with reasons tiring the patience of the [unclear: Ho] and so mildly that it had no effect in [unclear: che] the rancor of the debate. Perhaps his [unclear: pre] tion satisfied more people than changes [unclear: of] a nature generally do. The Legislative [unclear: C] cillors were hurt, and justly so; but, in [unclear: the] democratic days, these gentlemen [unclear: seem] to have feelings so that they may be [unclear: inj] But Sir William was pleased, for he [unclear: acti] an almost sinecure office, carrying [unclear: with] good salary for life, and both parties [unclear: in] House he left were pleased; for that [unclear: party] of office felt that any change would be [unclear: for] better, while that in office had the [unclear: satisf] of giving to a deserving member of [unclear: their] party a position of dignity and profit.
A graduate of the Dublin [unclear: University] barrister, Mr O'Rorke never devoted [unclear: hi] with any studiousness to the practice [unclear: of] profession. Dilettante newspaper [unclear: writing] provincial politics filled up his time [unclear: in] recess, but he never was a man of [unclear: en] With capabilities of no mean order, [unclear: an] herent laziness prevented him from [unclear: giving] free scope. In the House he was a [unclear: sil] member, having a penchant for [unclear: education] a Roman Catholic standpoint, if anything He never achieved distinction [unclear: until] Julius Vogel took him into his [unclear: Admi] tration in 1873. He remained in office [unclear: but] short time, breaking off suddenly [unclear: from] party when the resolutions for the [unclear: abolit] the provinces were first proposed. [unclear: Every] will remember his "hidden dagger" [unclear: sp] when, without any warning to his [unclear: colle] he dramatically left the Government [unclear: be] and stalked across the House. [unclear: Having] said or done anything brilliant or [unclear: start] while in office, it may be said that
Nothing in his official career
Became him like the leaving it.
When first elected to the Speakership [unclear: th] were feelings of uneasiness as to his [unclear: abili] perform the functions of the position; [unclear: these] doubts were quickly dispelled, and [unclear: f] all sides of the House came a [unclear: un] page 11 [unclear: ission] of his success. Rigidly impartial, [unclear: ect] in bis precedents, concise in his rulings, [unclear: firm] in his demeanour, he has once more [unclear: de] the House recognise the Speaker as its [unclear: ster.] Like a sensible man, he gives no [unclear: ons] for his decisions; he does not dally [unclear: th] questions, but with perfect dignity lays [unclear: n] a strong ruling, holds to it, and is [unclear: erally] right. Mr Sheehan once [unclear: endeavored] question his decision, wanting to know [unclear: on] authority it was given. "By my au-[unclear: ity] as Speaker, sir!" thundered Sir George, [unclear: d] even the self-sufficiency of the junior [unclear: ber] for the Thames quailed before so [unclear: stakeable] a determination not to have his [unclear: ings] questioned. It must be recollected [unclear: t,] though put into the position he [unclear: pies] by Sir George Grey's Government, [unclear: and] an adherent of the party, Sir George [unclear: rke] has never for a moment failed in his [unclear: ity] to the trust reposed in him. He no [unclear: e] fears to rebuke the hasty expressions or [unclear: ly] conduct of Sir George Grey himself, [unclear: ly] he does to quell the turbulence and un-[unclear: nerly] utterances of Mr Brown, Mr Reeves, [unclear: the] other roisterers of the party. He is [unclear: gether] an admirable speaker, and his place [unclear: d] not be easily filled. But it may be [unclear: pted] that so long as he remains in the [unclear: se] he will continue to be Speaker, and that [unclear: fore] he will not again take a leading [unclear: t] in party warfare.
The hero of a hundred fights, always fresh [unclear: d] hearty, is Sir William Fox. To trace, [unclear: shortly], the political career of the veteran [unclear: ght] would require an article in itself, [unclear: but] William will never lead a party again. [unclear: He] become so much a specialist on the question of the suppression of drinking, and [unclear: he] become so embittered, that he will not [unclear: in] probability ever be intrusted with the [unclear: ation] of a Cabinet. It is a great satie-[unclear: tion] when dealing with Sir William, how-[unclear: to] know that you have a man of absolute [unclear: grity] before you. Would there were more [unclear: e] him in the House; "but what is one among [unclear: any?"] No one can listen to his speeches [unclear: aout] feeling their dramatic strength, their [unclear: wer] of metaphor and application, their force of language; but a feeling of regret comes, too, [unclear: t] the power of sarcasm, intolerance, and [unclear: ctive] should so predominate. Though his broken manliness is respected by his friends, [unclear: s] in judiciousness and bitter irony are [unclear: feared] overshooting the mark of caution; while his [unclear: mpromising] honesty, his power of sar-[unclear: and] invective, make him feared and hated [unclear: y] his opponents. In these respects he towers a giant among his fellows; but it is not well [unclear: to] a man like Sir William, now old, one [unclear: who] his day "has done the State some service," compromise the dignity of his position in the House, as he sometimes does, by his injudicious oratory. It was not always so, for
"The time hath been, when no harsh sound would fall
From lips that now may seem imbued with gall."
His last—and by no means least—great work for the colony, the West Coast Commission, which will ever be a tribute to his ability, needs no comment.
Sir William Fox has no ambition to lead again, but the nutshell that would bound the ideas of Mr Wakefield, who next claims my notice, must enclose the world. His first experiences of politics were gained at the feet of Sir Edward Stafford, whose private secretary he was, and from his position as secretary to the Cabinet. Here bis manipulation of Cabinet confidences are said to have first shown his aptitude for newspaper work. Immediately before the retirement from office of his patrons, on the carrying of a want of confidence motion, he was appointed to a clerkship in the Custom House, in Auckland, where he kept warm his interest in the public service till Sir Edward Stafford's return to power, when be was reinstated in his secretaryship. On their next expulsion, the Ministry had not the audacity, though doubtless Mr Wakefield would have had enough for all, to replace him in the Custom House, so he became a journalist, and was appointed editor of the Timaru Herald. Soon after, he was returned to the House for Geraldine, for which district he has since held a precarious seat, coming in once by the casting vote of the returning officer. Of Mr Wakefield's character, it maybe said that he bears the index of it on his face—insincerity and instability are written on every line of otherwise pleasing features. In his new career he soon achieved success of a kind, making a reputation by his writing and his eloquence. A ready tongue and a readier pen quickly brought him into notice, but his reputation has run before his merits, and disappointment is often felt in listening to his speeches. It may be that all his success is already achieved, and that the epitaph written on his broken column will be "capax loquendi nisi locutus csset."It is to be regretted that one who has such an undoubtedly ready tongue should lack the education that would have made him an orator, and the earnestness that would have gained him confidence as a politician; for flippancy cannot make amends for a deficiency in good taste, nor superficiality for want of thought and training. It will still be remembered in Wellington how these latter qualities, ably displayed in a speech on the unemployed, earned page 12 for him the hatred of those who were thrown out of work by the depression in trade, whom he cruelly stigmatised as the "Wellington loafers." It would probably be unfair to blame him for his egotism and conceit, qualities which Anthony Trollope affirms are characteristic of the whole of his family; but no excuse can redeem him from the charge of disrespect in the House to those who are as far his superiors in years as in wisdom; while his want of education can alone be urged to account for his strange confusion of licence in invective with liberty of debate. Lately, however, he has wisely concealed these defects by well-timed silence, the only path that can lead him to the goal he covets, and if he should eventually succeed in New Zealand politics, he will have to thank his silence more than his speech, and his uncle rather than his sincerity. [unclear: Althou] Mr Wakefield does not admit it, [unclear: the] can be no doubt that all his [unclear: speeh] his jokes, his actions, and the very tone he uses are all carefully [unclear: prepared] but with all the pleasant ring of bis [unclear: musi] voice, with his easy gestures, fluent [unclear: spee] and ready command of words, he is [unclear: of] weight in the House, and will ever [unclear: lack] fluence. As an unscrupulous free-lance, [unclear: opponent], he will always be a thorn in the [unclear: sid] of his enemies; but to his friends he can never be of much assistance. Like a bar [unclear: sinister] a scutcheon, the mark of unreliability has [unclear: bee] placed upon the whole family in their political relations, which render, and will ever render them objects of distrust.