Page images

any irregular and unwarrantable tendencies on the part of the chief. In the army, the combined system of seniority and purchase decides, in nearly every case, how vacancies shall be filled up; so that original commissions and staff appointments offer the sole arena in which favouritism can now run rampant. In the civil service, the rule of promotion long since stereotyped is almost never broken through, and a new man can scarcely, by any influence, be foisted in. In both departments rivals and competitors are always on the alert to vindicate their own claims, and to criticise the qualifications of the successful candidate; and any preference, unwarranted by custom or by singular and special merit, would create such instantaneous discontent and such formidable clamour, as to render it virtually impossible. No chief would venture to encounter the storm of animosity on the part of aspirants and their friends which would follow on any illegitimate, unusual, or indefensible exercise of patronage.

In the third place, not only is the systematic decency, if not the absolute purity, of official appointments and promotions guarded by rigid custom and vigilant rivalship—it is watched over likewise by the lynx-eyed Press, and by the keen sagacity of parliamentary inquisitors. It is well known that every exercise of patronage will be severely canvassed; that numbers who love their country, numbers who are covetous of popularity, and numbers who are competitors for power, will be prompt, if any opening is given by a corrupt or a careless nomination, to parade and exaggerate both the deficiencies of the appointed, and the qualifications of the rejected candidates; and that any such lapse from official virtue is sure to be heavily visited, both by a damaging debate in Parliament and a series of merciless articles in the public journals. Few ministers venture to sin with such a certain and ample penalty before them. It would not be worth while. Not only do they seldom dare to make bad appointments in the prospect of such a speedy retribution, but they dare not even go out of their way to make good ones, from dread of the discussions they might provoke, and the enmity they might incur from unscrupulous antagonists and disappointed rivals.

We do not say that bad appointments are not often made, but they are seldom made wilfully and knowingly. Men are sometimes placed in offices for which they are not fit, and in which they can do no good; but the error is in five cases out of six one of judgment and not of honesty. We speak from some connaissance du pays, and we are sure that nearly all ministers, and all zealous reformers who have become ministers, will confirm our statement,-when we declare our belief that

some of the appointments which have turned out worst, were those made with the most upright and patriotic intentions; and that the difficulty experienced, even by those actuated by the purest motives, in finding "the right men for the right places," is embarrassing and disappointing to a degree which few will credit.

Before proceeding to specify the points in which ministers are really defective and culpable, we must advert to two actively operating causes of bad appointments for which the country is more answerable than any administration-inadequate remuneration, and limitation of choice. The former affects chiefly the secondary, and the latter the principal, offices of government. Take the case of the Permanent Civil Service, than which few departments need more thorough overhauling. The minor posts are on the average well filled, and their duties more than respectably discharged. They are said to be disposed of by favour, and to be often given to one man, when, in the opinion of bystanders, they would be more worthily bestowed on another. But, on the whole, the letter-carriers, the Post-office clerks, the Custom-house employés, and the excisemen, are fully competent to their work, and do it well. Considering their vast numbers, instances of default, either in character or capacity, are very rare-probably at least as rare as in any other line of life. And why is this? Because the remuneration is liberal and ample, according to the average expectation of that rank from which their occupants are chosen. The places are worth having to the men who seek them, worth deserving, worth making an effort to retain. Hence, there is no difficulty in enforcing the performance of duties which are adequately remunerated, and no difficulty in finding plenty of competent candidates to fill any vacancy. But how is it with respect to the clerks in government offices? You expect them to be gentlemen, to dress like such, to have the manners of such, to possess the trustworthiness and sense of honour of such. You expect them to be all this, and yet to serve you for a pittance, commencing at £90 a-year, and slowly advancing through long years at the rate of £15 a-year. You expect them to be all this for this small emolument, though you hold out to them no chance of distinction, of eminence, or of irregular promotion. Your expectation, as the result proves, is not unreasonable. You find sufficient numbers to wear your livery on these shabby terms. The social position, the scanty pay, the slow advance, are temptations to the younger sons of good families who live in London; who wish for the pleasures of society; who have some small income of their own; who never look to marrying; who are conscious of very slight capacity; who detest anything

like toil, and who are satisfied to exchange very little work for very little pay. But when you raise your expectations without raising your remuneration; when you demand from these young men unfailing industry, superior talent, judicious zeal, in addition to the low level of qualities for which alone you bargained, and for which alone you pay; when you expect the mental and moral qualities of an embryo statesman, or at least of an able official, for the pay of a scrivener or a copyist, your claim is intrinsically unreasonable and unjust. You-the public-have no right to expect to be served on lower terms than other competitors. You have no right to suppose that you can command the energy, the talent, the business habits, the steady labour, the thorough education, which would infallibly secure success in the open professions or the arena of bustling life, unless you are prepared-which you are not-to offer equal remuneration and to promise corresponding eminence. If you wish to tempt the élite of the rising generation into the service of the state, offer them prizes as high and emoluments as liberal as excite their ambition and await their success in other departments of exertion. If you wish to be as well servedwith a knowledge as full, a capacity as thorough, a judgment as enlightened, and a diligence as indefatigable-as railway directors, merchant princes, colossal brewers, or a litigating and physic-taking public-pay like them and promote like them.* But if you will only offer the lowest price, do not complain that you are put off with the refuse article. Do not be childish enough to repine that your miserable penny will not purchase a shilling cake. The highest posts in the civil service are, as a

We heard recently of a case in point. A principal in one of the large brewing houses of the metropolis applied to a friend who was an undersecretary of state, observing that the latter must often have brought under his notice men of first-rate ability, whom yet he was unable to find employment for. "Now," said he, "we want a clever man to conduct what we call our diplomatic correspondence, i.e. our communications and transactions with publicans. If you can recommend me a fit one from among your rejected applicants, I shall be glad." "How much can you give him ?" asked the official. "I do not think we can afford more than £2000 a-year," was the reply. "Then," said his friend, "you may have the pick, not only of the rejected but of the accepted candidates, for we have no place in our office worth nearly that sum."

The following is from a recent speech of Lord Granville's in the House of Lords.

"My lords, I think there has been some misapprehension in the public mind, both as to the appreciation of political men by men distinguished in private business, and as to the facility of obtaining men of business to fill official employments. It may be in the recollection of your lordships that the Railway Department was abolished by the House of Commons chiefly on the ground that it was too expensive. Before that took place we lost one secretary, an officer of engineers, because a commercial company offered

general rule, admirably filled, and why? Not only because their duties are such as could not be discharged by any but men of superior capacity and training, but because the influence, the estimation and the emoluments attached to them make them objects of ambition-positions worth the acceptance of men of eminent attainments. The civil servants of the East India Company have till now been appointed by the most naked and unscrupulous system of patronage and jobbing; yet, as a body, they have always been remarkable for the capable and conscientious discharge of their most responsible and weighty functions. And why? Because the scale of remuneration was so high that the service was eagerly sought for by men of the most competent vigour and capacity. But what father or guardian, in his senses, ever desired to place his cleverest and most industrious boys in the civil service of the crown?

It may be retorted, no doubt, that, this being the case, the whole system of our government offices ought long since to have been reformed; that the requirements should have been raised, and the remuneration proportionably enhanced; and that all successive administrations have been to blame for having left untouched what they must all have known to be so faulty. We may concede all this. Still it is undeniable that the wretched spirit of parsimony and retrenchment which, since 1833, and still more since the Manchester school became powerful, has presided over our policy, has effectually discouraged any government from proposing amendments which would lead even to a temporary exacerbation of expenditure; and no one can read the proceedings of the "Official Salaries Committee," which sat some years ago, without being strongly impressed with the mischief wrought by this low, short-sighted, shallow and unworthy temper. And it is not an altogether uninstructive circumstance that the first administration which seriously proposed to itself the needed re-organization of the civil service with a view to its augmented efficiency and purification, was driven from power by an almost unprecedented majority; and that those members of it, especially, to whom was due this creditable design, are at this moment about the most unpopular, though certainly the most pure and public-spirited of our political chiefs.

The mischief of a limitation in the field of choice, is felt

that gentleman double the salary he was receiving from the government. I know another gentleman, a friend of mine, at the head of a department under the crown-a department which was found fault with on the ground of expense last year-who was offered £2000 a-year, or double what he receives, by a great commercial company. He, whether wisely or not I cannot say, refused that office."

chiefly in the higher, or what are generally termed the ministerial offices. Great and not unnatural disgust is experienced on the formation of each successive administration, at perceiving that the same men, or men of the same families and connections, are almost always re-appointed. The Queen never seems to travel out of the old and scanty list of candidates for high appointments. If Lord Derby is sent for, he proposes one set: if Lord John Russell is entrusted with the construction of a government, he proposes another. The process-which the former nobleman described as either "the enlisting of raw recruits," or "the infusion of new blood," according as you wish to give it a good name or a bad one-is always carried to a most limited and timid extent. Just now, especially, there has been a more than usually earnest and general demand for "new men"-men unconnected with the great families, men of more business faculties, men of more popular sympathies. Let us consider, however, for a moment what are the difficulties with which a minister has to contend in making his selection of colleagues and subordinates, even assuming him to be every whit as desirous as the country to "travel out of the record" and introduce fresh wheels into the old machine.

In the first place, this selection must be made out of the members of one or other House of Parliament. As to the wisdom of this limitation we entertain a strong opinion, which most thoughtful men are now beginning to share. But the limitation, however undesirable, exists; it is part of our constitutional wont; it is defended by most politicians; and hitherto the nation at large has shown no disposition to listen to arguments in favour of its abandonment.

Secondly. The selection must be made from among those senators who hold the same general views of policy as the minister of the day, and usually, also, the same opinion on one or two of the more prominent and special topics of the conjuncture. This necessity excludes at once all who sit at the other side of the House all members of the regular and irregular opposition-and of course reduces the eligible list by at least one half.

Thirdly. It is still further reduced by throwing out the aged, whose time for work is past, or who never dreamed of office till it was too late to qualify. These men, though some of the most valuable senators, are wholly out of the question when official eligibility is concerned. We must next eliminate the unqualified and incapable, the vain and unreliable, the vulgar and low-bred,-men who mentally or morally are utterly unfit for office. Of these, unfortunately, there are too many in the House of Commons, and it is the fault of the constituencies

« PreviousContinue »