Rather a characteristic little scene followed the publication of this pretty comprehensive programme. A local Liberal insisted on asking a few questions. “Mr. Grant Duff, Sir, what alterations would you propose in our game laws? Or would you sweep them aside as a disgrace to the country?” Mr. Grant Duff said he would transfer the jurisdiction from the magistrates to the sheriff. He was then asked whether he would vote for the abolition of capital punishment, and said he would not. This very small incident has its value. People may talk for ever about the Liberal programme and depict in glowing colours all the reforms which ought to follow an extension of the suffrage; but reform to a vast mass of ignorant and careless voters will always mean some little question like flogging in the army, or what are vaguely called the game laws, though we greatly doubt whether one person in five who denounces them knows with any sort of precision what they are. This remark, indeed, supplies the subject of the principal criticism which we should be disposed to make on Mr. Grant Duff’s speech. Subject to certain exceptions, especially in regard to ecclesiastical questions, we agree with the greater part of what he said, and if the Reform Bill does procure for us any considerable part of the various good things which he enumerates, it will have been carried into force in this country. That some of the things in question will have a much better chance of being done under the next than under preceding Parliaments, is hardly a matter of doubt. It is a very different question in what spirit the necessary changes will be made. Whether they will be made at all in cases in which no gross practical grievance which immediately touches the pockets or the feelings of any considerable section of the people can be specified may be doubted. Look, for instance, at the question of army reform in the difficult branches enumerated by Mr. Grant Duff. No doubt such questions as the abolition of the purchase system, the abolition of military flogging, and increased encouragement to special talent in all ranks, would admit of being made popular questions. Perhaps, too, the substitution of one office for two at the head of military affairs might be put in a light sufficiently glaring to catch the eye of large masses of the electors; but why should we expect from the new Parliament a broader or more statesmanlike view of such a measure as uniting into one defensive army all the different arms of the present service than that which prevails with the present Parliament? Why should we suppose in particular that the new constituencies will see more clearly than the old ones the importance of keeping ourselves in a state of readiness for a large expansion of our military force on short notice, and of being provided for that purpose with a better central organization of our various military forces than we at present possess? Look again at the question of the code, to which Mr. Grant Duff justly attaches so much importance. Particular questions, such as the alteration of the law of inheritance, might be made popular but how can you ever succeed in making a popular constituency attach any sort of meaning to the difference between the consolidation and the codification of the law, or form an intelligent opinion upon the degree of latitude which it is desirable to leave to the judges in the interpretation of various parts of it? There are not many men in Parliament as it is who know much about law reform. Why should we suppose that the number will be increased by an increase in the constituencies? With respect to education, we think it not only possible, but probably, that the bill of last session will introduce great changes. The constituencies no doubt, will be fully able to understand that the great reason why they have not as yet got a general national system of education for their children is that the present system represents not the views of the parents, but the views of the gentry and the clergy. They will be likely enough to wish to alter this, and it is far from improbably that the shock of the alteration may make itself felt throughout the whole educational system of the country, including secondary and university education as well as primary education. We feel as much as Mr. Grant Duff the necessity of alteration in these matters, but we greatly doubt whether the new constituencies will exercise a particularly wise discretion as to the persons whom they will entrust with the task of rearranging the present state of things. It is eminently desirable that Oxford and Cambridge should be made national, lay, and nineteenth-century, but eminently undesirable that they should be made vulgar, narrow-minded, an fanatical, after a petty, ignoble fashion. There is a real risk that the nineteenth-century sprit which will be infused into those ancient bodies under the new system will not be the best of the many spirits of the age. We might in this way go through every one of the topics which Mr. Grant Duff has handled, and ask similar questions with regard to each. Mr. Grant Duff would probably reply that there is no use in asking such questions, inasmuch as the answer can lead to no useful result. We have got our Reform Bill. It was obviously inevitable from the first. All that remains is to try to direct into beneficial channels the new force which is called into play, and to teach our masters not only to know their letters but to know their friends, their best counsellors, and the course on which, if they are wise, they will steer. He would say, Whether you will get all these reforms or not is one question; Whether it is wise to agitate for them, to put forward distinct proposals supported by intelligible reasons as the program of the Liberal party, is quite another, and it is one about which those who think as we do cannot entertain any real doubt. Find reasonable work for the new constituencies to do, and show them how to do it, and the late change will be a blessing to us all, otherwise not. This is, we think, true and manly doctrine, and we can only add it that we must all work, and hope for the best. Whether our expectations are more or less sanguine, let us, at all events, put the best face on matters which they can reasonably wear.
Pall Mall Gazette, October 11, 1867.