The House of Lords in the Age of Reform, 1784-1837: With an Epilogue on Aristocracy and the Advent of Democracy, 1837-1867

By A. S. Turberville | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV1
After the Reform Act: (I) Survival

'The House of Lords was vanquished,' wrote Disraeli in 1833, 'and the moment that they passed the Reform Bill that assembly was as completely abrogated and extinguished as it its Members had torn off their robes and coronets, and flung them into the river, and, stalking in silence to their palaces, had never returned to that Chamber, which every Peer must now enter with a flush or with a pang.'2 Two years later, however, we find the same authority adjuring the peers of England to proceed in their course, wise, courageous, temperate, dignified; and assuring them that their authority rests upon the confidence and affection of their fellow-countrymen. 'If the bitter records of the past bear any wisdom, it is not lightly, or with a careless spirit, that the people of England will part with the salutary institution of your high estate.'3 How was it possible for Disraeli to use such utterly different language after so short an interval?

The truth is that what had appeared to be the black and final tragedy of the House of Lords was not long after discovered to be but a prelude to a period of light-hearted, pugnacious, and soul-satisfying adventure. Having passed through the gloomy portal of the Reform Act, the Peers found themselves, to the general surprise, not only alive but skittish. Charles Greville's observation that the Lords kept on saying that there had been a revolution and yet went on acting as though they did not really believe in it, was only one expression of the widespread alarm at the possible untoward consequences of their Lordships' rashness. Never, not even after the Peers had thrown

____________________
1
This and the two following chapters comprised a single very long chapter in the author's typescript. The material has been split up and re-titled. [Ed.]
2
Whigs and Whiggism, p. 19.
3
Ibid., pp. 100-101.

-319-

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