Huddersfield Chronicle (23/Jun/1894) - A Wet Day, the Patent Library, a Coffee Tavern, and the House of Lords
A WET DAY, THE PATENT LIBRARY, A COFFEE TAVERN, AND THE HOUSE OF LORDS.
((From Our Correspondent "Cid.")
The rain came down in torrents as I dropped from the tram in St. George's Square. I had just left home, and was umbrellaless. Where could I go? Ah! there was the Railway Station. I went, bat soon tired of that. I crossed the Square, bat not between the drops, and just as I entered the Lion Arcade I thought what a fine thing it would be for Huddersfield if that block of buildings were turned into a great reading-room, into a storage for the wealth of the minds of all nations, for the products of the skill of the past and present, and for the collection of nature's wonders, dead or alive. I tired of the Arcade, and then tried a public-house, but found myself in the midst of swearing, lewd humanity, whose language was bestial and lascivious. I did not marvel at that; I have heard such expressions before, and can hear them from the months of both sexes in the public streets any evening of the week, particularly the best of the seven. I then went into the Wholesale Market, but that only kept off the rain, and not the cold wind, while I felt like a prowler. After that I looked wistfully through the key-hole of the Parish Church, but that did not keep me dry. I was soon in another public-house. The company in this well-known and well kept hotel was both instructive and entertaining. Wits were pitted against each other, while a number of men of varying capacities, but all of good humour, were bent upon making the time pass pleasantly and quickly. There was a freedom about them all, which was the essence of fun and cheerfulness, and which contributed to the exchange of cash from pocket to till with remarkable rapidity. Notwithstanding the good quality of the excisables consumed, I was neither proof against their price nor effects, and, though loth to leave, I passed into the rainy streets again. As I did so a thought struck me that it would be as comfortable and as cheap, on such a day, to ride in the upper saloon of the trams until the sun shone again as anything else, and felt half inclined to assist the Tramways Committee in reducing their everlasting deficiencies, but I did not, being afraid that one of the engines might burst and blow me to where I was not prepared to go. The Friendly and Trade Societies' Club came next, but as that is a public-house without a licence, and seems to be supported chiefly by the sale of refreshments, I thought a licensed public-house as good as an unlicensed one, and did not venture so low down. The rain came faster as I got into Westgate, and seeing the Grosvenor Art Gallery open I gladly entered. I urge all who have not been to go there at once. If they have any love for art they will be repaid, and Mr. Abbey will receive well-merited encouragement. Although I could have feasted my eyes for half a day on the 200 original pictures in black and white shown there, I wanted to see what could be seen in Huddersfield on a wet day. I then passed through Market Walk, once better known as "Wappy Nick," and went with the stream into the Market Hall. Of course, there was no room there, but somehow I got inside and smiled at a remark which advised the Corporation, on Saturdays, Tuesdays, and rainy days, to post a notice at the entrances of this place to the effect that there is no room within except for stalls, and notifying that trespassers will be imprisoned in the dungeon, sometimes spoken of as the Bottom Market. I don't like to be crushed and smothered as well, so I passed into the wet street again.
I thought of the Town Hall, but might, with a greater chance of getting in, have thought of the Borough or County Police Station. Still I remembered that there is a Patent Library somewhere in the roof of the Corporation Buildings. Having an impression that it was just behind the organ I entered from Peel Street, and was soon in passages as dark as a coal mine. I ascended, turned to right and left, moved backwards and forwards, and when in doubt descended. I then began to try the various doors as I came at them, and saw peculiar sights. Occasionally I noticed industry taking its time, evidently anxious for the closing hour. I thought I knew everywhere about the Town Hall, but found myself sadly mistaken. Half ashamed to ask I blundered along until I really feared I might be a subject for a coroner's enquiry. I made another attempt, but failed, until at last I found a young man at his toilet, and when he had made himself look nice, and had combed and brushed himself to perfection, he passed me into the open at the chief entrance from Ramsden Street, put me in the hands of another spruce young man who shouted after me that I must take the second open door to the right on the corridor. I did so and forthwith commenced another ascent, went up and up, around and around, thought of York Minster and the staircase at Cook's Study, and just when I had concluded I had been made a fool of I saw a gleam of light and pantingly entered Huddersfield Patent Library. The room is well-lighted from the roof, is 26 yards by seven, well-shelved all round, and stored to its utmost with specifications, lists of patents, chronological indexes of names, and subject matter and alphabetical indexes from 1854 to the present. Some are bound, others in paper backs. Here is a veritable store-house, equal to any in the country, of the inventions made during the latter part of this century. There were but two chairs in the room, one table full of loose pamphlets, several boards on trestles, others reared promiscuously, and dust, dust everywhere. There did not seem to have been a human being in the place for a month. Wandering aimlessly I found another room in which was a mixture of lumber, gas fittings, glass, books, &c. The electric light seems to be put in every room. In another place I saw the ballot-boxes surrounded by old chairs, books, carpets, pots, an old umbrella, and several indescribables. In handling the books I was soon as black as a sweep and had, of course, to stand as there was nothing but a piece of old sacking or floor cloth that might have been used as a duster. There is not one in five hundred people in Huddersfield that knows that there is this library in the town. It is a rare thing to meet with anyone who has seen it, and I know of several gentlemen going to Leeds and Bradford to read books on patents, when similar books were stored in their own Town Hall. One gentleman went to Manchester twice a week for a long time on such a mission. Hundreds of people might save themselves much useless labour and study by here finding that what they are striving to discover has already been found out, and, perhaps, proved of little value long ago. It is far from being a credit to the town that such valuable records of the skill of the world should be hid in a garret. Thankful that there is one free library in the town, I descended, and in doing so wandered into the gallery which overlooks the Council Chamber. The Mayor's throne, the Town Clerk's chair, the alder-manic bench, and the common councillors' seats were shrouded still as death. Having many times seen this Chamber otherwise, and heard in it speeches of varying ability, some of them conceived in bitterness and brought forth in noise, I looked on the scene with satisfaction and thought if it could have remained as quiet during the past few years as when I left it the rates might not have been so high as now.
I passed into the streets again, but the rain seemed determined to drown Huddersfield. Why not go to the Huddersfield and County Conservative Club? I once went there in order to show an old friend something of the town. I did not get my nose through the doorway before I was told that none but members were admitted. As an upholder of law and order I did not complain, but thought as I left if a day a week were set apart for the free admission of members of Conservative clubs in the town and district neither this central club nor the Constitutional cause would be the worse for it, while the reciprocal feeling amongst Conservatives would be strengthened and encouraged. Although I felt that on a day like this I should not have been refused admittance, somehow I did not feel inclined to risk it, and so did not go. The Huddersfield Industrial Society puts the town to shame by opening a free reading-room, and thus wins for itself the credit of being a leader in education, and the thanks of many who have few home comforts, or who perhaps are more welcome away than at home. There are the Y.M.C.A., the Technical School, and several similar places, all excellent in their way, but to be a member of all these in order to profit from their advantages would mean a tax upon an income, piled on the top of ever-increasing rates, more than an ordinary family man can afford. In fact, one might as well spend his money on his home, live in a bigger house, and make it into a library, art gallery, and museum combined. The rain did not abate, but if anything increased. Why not go home? Good advice should be taken, but it is more easy to give it than to take it. As this is a matter too personal to be eloquent about, I advise such advisers to go home and stay there. More like a bedraggled dog or a drenched hen than anything, I passed into the Exchange, and at once thought what a fine reading-room it would make. If the owner of this place could make the town a present of it his memory would long be precious in Huddersfield. I should not be surprised to see the consummation of this. What would look better or sound better than "The Ramsden Free Library, Art Gallery, and Museum?"
I was soon in the wet street again, and was this time fortunate in meeting my old friend Grey Beard, who hospitably invited me into a coffee house. The room was low, full of smoke, and so crowded that I could not get a seat. A dozen men were shouting at each other and I at once thought of Babel and the confusion of tongues. All were in deadly earnest, neither giving nor expecting quarter, and it seemed to be a rule, no matter how personal, silly, or untrue their remarks, to withdraw nothing. There was a chairman, but he let the speakers say and do what they liked, indeed he took sides like the rest. Most of the spouters were Radicals, and the loudest-mouthed had an advantage and made the most of it. Each had a fad for the betterment of everything but himself. The weaver would reform the farmer, the farmer would improve the urbans, the merchant, manufacturer, tinkler, tailor, and shoemaker knew just what was wanted to make other people's homes, the town, the State, and the world perfect, and could do it directly if it were not for the House of Lords. If a Conservative defended the Lords, the Church, or the Queen, he was shouted at, sneered at, and all but murdered by fierce looks. Crass ignorance was the most noisy, and was tickled and laughed at by a few who evidently had had considerable education. One of them addressed the rest as "you" have done this, that, and the other, and was for distributing equally the wealth of the world, letting the labourer rule the rest, and was for sharing everything on the principle that those who have done first should help to eat what their neighbours might have put by for a rainy day. Another would abolish interest, make the State the banker for all, and give each individual a blank cheque-book, that all might, when cashless, write themselves down their ten or their fifty, as whim or fancy suggested. A jolly, fat, round-faced, contented, past middle-aged gentlemen laughed at his own wit, which was very quaint and droll, and, in fact, irresistible. He was so full of information that he ran over, and so primed with mirth that he made even thin, sour-faced bitterness give an apology for a smile, and the rest all but burst with laughter. Another attacked the Church of England in the bitterest of language, and though unable to show that he pays, or had paid, anything to the Establishment, he was prepared to take all its endowments and let the nation have a fuddle with them. He would do it at once if it were not for the House of Lords. Several clear-headed Liberals saw the fallacy of this kind of reasoning, and drew logical conclusions of considerable force, but generally ended by sneering at the House of Lords as hereditary and obstructive. One individual, with considerable knowledge on most subjects, delivered himself in forcible and remarkable language. He had the Gladstonian style of circumlocution, and had as many provisoes and qualifications in his sentences as his "honoured" leader ever had. He pronounced long and difficult words fairly accurately, but stuck to his country dialect for the rest, making a jumble of grotesque sentiments. Although a strong Radical, he showed some knowledge of Toryism, and admitted in a general way that the Conservatives had aimed at doing some good, but persisted in stating that they had "miserably" failed, do fail, and will for ever fail in accomplishing anything worth mentioning. What struck me as singular was his statement that he would not give "tuppince" for all the papers published in Huddersfield. He must, therefore, either borrow his local information or have it retail to him second-hand. He spoke as if he could write, edit, sub-edit, dictate, arrange, manage, and bring out a morning or evening paper that would surpass the local papers as the sun transcends the moon, and would do it all as quickly and as mysteriously as the Wizard of the North produces rabbits, pigeons, birds and their cages, unlimited drapery, and possibly babies out of an "empty" hat or other utensil. Certainly, if his falutin were transmitted to print it would repay the curious to study it. His high-flown language was a wonderful mixture of metaphors, colloquialisms, and self-assertiveness, and would surely cause a run on the paper that reported him verbatim et liberatim , but may-be the run would stop, never to go again, after the second issue. He is a veritable thunder-bolt gone mad. He, too, would at once abolish the House of Lords. After this the jolly-faced gentleman asked Grey Beard what he had to say about the Upper Chamber. Grey Beard replied, with a twinkle in his eye, that he thought the business of the nation would be done both cheaper and better if the House of Commons were abolished. At this there was a general laugh of derision, many evidently taking it as seriously meant, and he was defied to defend the Lords, which he did as follows:— He considered a Second Chamber for all nations a great necessity. He was, certainly, not opposed to sensible and just reform of the House of Lords, but to be ruled by a changing and fickle majority was ridiculous. The British Constitution is a model for the world, and if the best of both parties would combine, progress and liberty would go hand-in-hand continuously. It was, however, quite clear that when those parties were somewhat evenly balanced measures were more thoroughly discussed than when the majority was large and arbitrary. Still in both cases an independent revision by the best and most intelligent minds in the country was salutary and safe. The members of the House of Lords held their seats by hereditary right, creation of the Monarch, by virtue of office, by election for life, and by election for the duration of Parliament, therefore, the silly sneer that the Chamber is only hereditary is untrue. The Irish and Scotch, though hereditary peers, are not hereditary legislators, and their seats do not descend to their heirs. They are elective legislators as the members of the House of Commons are elective. Again, newly elected peers are not hereditary, though they do transmit their seats to their heirs, but those without heirs are merely life peers. Further, many of the peers have been elected during the last 60 or 70 years from the best and cleverest of the people, and many have been chosen for their distinguished services in the House of Commons; therefore the House of Lords is far from not being in touch with the people. Mr. Gladstone has created 50 since 1868, while during the same time the Earl of Beaconsfield and Lord Salisbury have also added to the peerage, and thus extended the connection of the Lords with the people. Again, many of the hereditary peers would, in ability and uprightness, equal either the members of the House of Commons or the members of any legislative Chamber in the world; in fact, he would match the first 20 he met coming from the Lords against the first 20 coming from the Commons, or any other assembly, age for age, either in intellect, character, strength, or anything else. He had heard people, whose language betokened insanity, and whose characters would not bear searching into, speak disrespectfully and in coarse, abominable language of peers whose ability was patent and whose lives were as blameless as human lives could be. If there were rogues and blacklegs in one Chamber, what about the unnamable offences committed by members of the House of Commons? Such picking of holes in the characters of others by those who have no characters to lose was abominable. He admitted that the House of Lords did obstruct good, and oft what seemed good, legislation, but that was one of its important and useful functions. Still it often sanctioned great measures, and frequently initiated important and good legislation. Measures when forced upon and through Parliament have invariably been condemned, and ill-conceived agitations have been proved to be bad in their inception and intent by the calm judgment of posterity. Consequently the obstruction of such legislation was wise and wholesome. Almost all great nations are protected against reckless and vicious legislation by written Constitutions, therefore the absence of a written Constitution of Great Britain and Ireland is a valid and potent excuse for the existence of the House of Lords. Having no written fundamental law, charters, precedents, and Acts of Parliament have built and do build up the British Constitution.
It has for its basis the Great Charter, the Habeas Corpus Act, the Bill of Rights, the Act of Settlement, and the statutes that have become settled and equitable law. It would be most difficult to change the Constitution of the United States, while that of the United Kingdom might, in a night, be changed by a majority of one — even a Jabez Balfour — and the whole system of government of the British Islands altered, were it not for the free and independent safeguard of the Upper Chamber, and the ultimate veto of the Sovereign. President Cleveland during his first term vetoed more than 100 bills, still ignorant Radicals coarsely sneer at the mention of the veto of the British Sovereign. It is all but impossible to repeal the Constitution of the United States, while no man of first rank would ever think of such a thing, yet if the Senate and the House of Representatives agreed to make a change, and the President passed it, the minority could take the question before the Supreme Court for revision. In Britain a bare majority might take a step that could not be retraced, and commit blunders that could not be remedied, in a generation. Those who idiotically rail at the power of veto by the Crown either do not know or will not remember that that veto, though threatened, has not been exercised for more than a century and three-quarters. The Premier of the day has now displaced the Sovereign as the Executive of the State, and unless there were some check a bad Premier, with a passing or accidental majority, might plunge the country into fatuous helplessness or wholesale destruction. The Sovereign's prerogative has, however, only been suspended by disuse, therefore, there is all the more need for the restraining power of a revising Chamber. Further, now that the democracy is having a taste of power, is becoming more arbitrary as it gains strength, and is openly boasting what it will do as a consequence, the value of the House of Lords asserts itself and stands between the country and ill-considered legislation, and thus saves the dangerous rush of ignorance and passion from the results of folly. Again, the House of Lords cannot he ended except by armed force, as they would not consent to their own extinction. The suggestion by Mr. Labouchere and Mr. Frederic Harrison that sufficient peers should be made to out-vote the present majority in the Lords is harebrained idiotcy. Some men would give much to become lords and many would gladly accept the honour, so that, if elected, it does not follow that they would vote for their own extinction, and, therefore, that House might become more powerful than ever. There is a vast difference between ending and mending the Lords. Hereditary membership might be restricted, and life peers increased. Instead of men of professed religious opinions assisting the non-religious in grossly insulting and trying to abolish the Bishops from the House of Lords they would advocate the increase of their number from the best and most intellectual of all religious beliefs it would, in this ribald and frivolous age, be for the country's good. Instead of Premiers appointing men wholesale as a reward for party services, the qualification for the peerage should be settled by the unmistakable verdict of the intelligence of the nation. Men of all ranks who distinguished themselves in the true uplifting and advancement of the Empire would then have something to aim at, to live for, and to hand down to their successors, other than the transitory obituary of the newspapers. The number of members might well be reduced and the scandal of scant attendance when there is any legislation to be revised might be made impossible, but to do without them altogether is the conception of ignorance and imbecility. Grey Beard's speech fell like a bombshell among the Nihilists, Anarchists, Socialists, Atheists, Radicals, Liberals, and faddists of every kind, and as the rain had wept the sky into smiles and made the streets as sweet as country lanes I passed into the open air and breathed freely.