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Our Honorable Friend

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Author Charles Dickens
Genres Prose: Essay i
Prose: Political Commentary i
Subject Great Britain—Politics and Government
Details
Index
Other Details
Printed : 31/7/1852
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume V
Magazine : No. 123
Office Book Notes
Memo-
Columns5.25
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Views : 1398

Lord John Russell's Government resigned in February [1852] and the Earl of Derby formed a Conservative administration with Disraeli as Chancellor. There was a general election in July and, although the Conservatives gained over 100 seats, they remained a minority government. Joseph Irving notes in his Annals of Our Time [1869], 'A diversity giving rise to much comment was noticed in the speeches delivered during the present election by Ministerial supporters, regarding the views of the Cabinet on the subject of Free-trade', and records also 'a curious case of bribery' at Derby, where a man was found in the County Tavern with '265l. in gold and 40l. in notes' and a book containing 'the names of electors who had received money for their vote'. 


Dickens wrote to Wills that he had thought his article 'would be a success', adding, 'It seems to be making a great noise' (Pilgrim, Vol VI, p. 729). The Pilgrim editors note that it was 'widely quoted' in the press, instancing The Times for 31 July (this issue of HW was published on 28 July). In its second leader The Times quotes the new Conservative Government's stated mission as 'to act where its predecessors could only talk, to consolidate and strengthen where they could only disturb and unsettle, and to terminate the wretched strife of classes by a just, cautious, fair and comprehensive policy', and comments that it 'would have been no parody to insert instead of these words the declaration of the honorable member for Verbosity', proceeding to quote from Dickens's text the passage beginning 'His principles were...' and ending '...more particularly' [...]. 'Can jest...', asks the leader-writer, 'come so near earnest and the playful irony of a political satirist so closely resemble the high-wrought enthusiasm of a thick and thin partisan? We rather incline to think the Honorable member for Verbosity the more explicit of the two...' He concludes 'Lord Derby has much to answer for. He has in his own person greatly lowered the standard of public morality, and by constantly using the language of deception and evasion has inoculated his supporters with the same miserable arts.' 
       Dickens here plays with the kind of Parliamentary cliché-language that he had mocked earlier in 'A Few Conventionalities' (HW, Vol. III, 28 June 1851; Miscellaneous Papers [1908]): 'Why must an honourable gentleman always "come down" to this house? ... Why is he always "free to confess"? ...' Several details in his satire of the general election process look forward to the 'National and Domestic' chapter of Bleak House (Ch. 40, published in March 1853). 

Literary allusions 

  • 'nought could make us rue': Shakespeare, King John, Act 5, Sc. 7;
  • 'Whose march is o'er the mountain wave...': Thomas Campbell, 'Ye Mariners of England' (1828)

Author: Michael Slater; © J. M. Dent/Orion Publishing Group, Dickens' Journalism Volume III: 'Gone Astray' and Other Papers from Household Words, 1851–59 (1998). DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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