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Chapter XI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

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The other election which concentrated public attention, was that for the Oxford University. Mr. Gladstone had represented that exceptional constituency for eighteen years, though many attempts had been made to remove him from his seat, as from time to time his opinions showed fresh divergence from those of his youth. On this occasion a powerful opponent was brought forward in Mr. Gathorne Hardy, one of the most influential members of the Conservative party. The constituency of the University is composed of the members of its Convocation - that is, of all persons who have taken a degree not lower than that of Master of Arts, and who retain their names on the register by certain payments. The full number of possible voters amounts to about 4,000, the majority of them being clergymen of the Established Church, scattered about in parishes throughout the kingdom. In this election, for the first time, it was legal to use voting-papers, which enabled members to vote without coming up to Oxford to record their votes in person. This provision, passed only in the last Parliament, was fatal to Mr. Gladstone. His Liberalism, supposed to be extreme, and supposed to include news not wholly adverse to the disestablishment of State Churches, cost him his seat. He was beaten by Mr. Hardy by a majority of 180, the numbers being, Hardy 1,904, Gladstone 1,724. Mr. Gladstone took his farewell of the University in an address which expressed his "profound and lasting gratitude" for its support during the "arduous connection of eighteen years." The very night of his defeat, he owned, in the Liverpool Amphitheatre, that he had " clung to the representation of the University with desperate fondness; " and all who have studied his career, all who have watched the perpetual struggle in his mind between chivalrous affection for the past and boundless hope in the present, between the love of the culture of the few and the passion for the elevation of the many, know how truly he spoke. That day, the 18th of July, was typical of the whole of his life. He stood, to use words of his own, between the "ancient, great, and venerable University" and the " hives of teeming enterprise." He went from Oxford to South Lancashire, and after a campaign of magnificent speech- making, was returned by a narrow majority. We shall have to record, in the history of the next election, his subsequent loss of the same seat; but that loss mattered comparatively little. The real turning-point in his political career, and in the history of his party, was his rejection for Oxford University. From that moment he was, politically speaking, another man.

The total result of the elections was the return of 367 Liberals and 290 Conservatives - a gain of nearly fifty votes to the former party. It will be seen, however, that a large number of those who described themselves as Liberals soon showed their dissent from the policy of the Liberal Government; so that the majority was in reality very much smaller than might have been supposed.

Leaving Ireland to be spoken of in another chapter, the political history of the year ends with the elections. From July to December, political passions slept, political voices were dumb; only the Cabinet were at work on the questions of the next year - questions which, after Lord Palmerston's death, became more pressing and important. As to the general and social history of the country, there is, with the exception of the account of the cattle plague, which is given below, neither more nor less that is worth recording than is usual in any average year. The two events which startled people most were, perhaps, the confession and voluntary surrender of Miss Constance Kent, on the charge of having murdered her infant brother at Road in Wiltshire, in 1860; and the dreadful accident on the Matter- horn, by which three English gentlemen and a guide lost their lives: these were Lord Francis Douglas, Mr. Hadow, the Rev. C. Hudson, and Michael Croz. The tragedy was enhanced by the fact of this having been the first time that the gigantic peak had been successfully scaled: the English party and an Italian party literally raced to the summit from different sides; the English party won the goal first, and it was only on the descent that the fatal slip took place.

Trade and finance were prosperous during this year, though the cotton market had not quite recovered from the shock of the American War. It had, however, partially recovered; and to the manner of its recovery, indeed, is to be indirectly traced much of the disastrous panic of 1866. The full history of that panic will be told in a future chapter; at present we may remark that the stoppage of the American supplies caused first of all a stoppage, more or less complete, of English trade; that a new cotton supply was looked for from India, and that hence new and various channels were opened for trade; that hence arose all kinds of feverish, unsteady, and unwise speculation, the newspapers being crowded with daily advertisements of new enterprises, many of them on a gigantic scale. For this year, all went well. Two hundred and eighty- seven new " Limited Liability " companies were started, embracing every kind of undertaking, from the negotiation of foreign loans to the manufacture of an improved blacking: everybody turned investor; the price of consols went down from 91 3/8 in April to 86 3/4 in December, showing that where so many profitable investments were open, people would not buy stock which would pay them only three per cent. In a word, everything looked well, and every one was busy; the crash was as yet far distant, and all had their fortunes to make.

The general prosperity of the country received, however, a severe blow in the outbreak of the cattle plague, which first appeared in June in this year, and which by the end of December had carried off more than forty thousand head of cattle. The disease, which was in a high degree contagion's, was that which is known in Germany under the name Rinderpest; and all that is known of its origin is told in the admirable First Report of the Royal Commissioners (Lord Cranborne, Mr. Lowe, Dr. Lyon Play- fair, and several others) who were appointed to investigate it. Two English cows, says the report, were purchased at the Islington Cattle Market on the 19th of June, and on the 27th a veterinary surgeon first noticed symptoms of disease in them. They were in the shed of the cow- keeper who had bought them. Two Dutch cows, bought at the same time and place, were also taken with the disease in another shed. Immediately afterwards, the plague - for it had become a plague - broke out in numerous London sheds, and spread very fast and very destructively. The Islington cow-keeper lost her whole herd, ninety-three in number. In a very few weeks the disease had passed out of London to nearly every county in England, and even to Scotland. It had even gone across the sea to Holland with some Dutch oxen which had been sent for sale to the London market, but which were sent back again, because they could not be sold at a remunerative price. Now, among the foreign cattle which had been sold in the Metropolitan Cattle Market about this time, were some oxen from Revel on the Baltic; and it was shown that some of these were ill, at the time of their landing, with what afterwards proved to be the disease. But this, though not improbable in itself, was considered by the commissioners to be not proved; and they left it an open question whether the plague had been imported this way or via Holland. Anyhow, there was and is little doubt that the original home of the disease is the steppe country of Southern Russia. Increased facilities of transit have naturally increased the trade in the Russian cattle, and therefore, of course, encouraged the spread of the murrain. Four times at least in previous centuries had the plague, or one very similar to it, appeared in England; the last attack, which continued for the twelve years from 1745 to 1757, carrying off several hundred thousand cattle, formed a precedent of great value for the guidance of the authorities in the present year. The records of that plague told how inspectors were appointed, sick cattle were killed, a compensation rate was established, cattle travelling on roads were stopped and examined; how, finally, when Act after Act had been passed, it became necessary to abolish all fairs, and even all movements of cattle, except for slaughter. Similar regulations, as will be seen, were afterwards made in agreement with the commissioners' report.

The official description of the disease was as follows: - "The cattle plague is, in the language of medicine, a specific disease belonging to the class of contagious fevers. The contagious matter is subtle, volatile, prolific in an unexampled degree. It is conveyed in a most virulent form in the excretions from the diseased animal. Any particle of those excretions may serve as a vehicle for it. We know not the limit of time within which it disengages itself from them, nor to what distance it may not be diffused. It may travel, we know, in the hide, horns, hoofs, and intestines of the dead animal; the offal, ^ therefore, is highly dangerous. It lurks undeveloped in ftb3 system for a. period about which some difference of opinion, exists, which certainly is not less than five days, usually is seven or eight, but appears to be more prolonged in some cases. Towards the end of this period of incubation, but at what precise point we do not know, it becomes capable of diffusing itself by contagion.... The proportion of cases in which it is fatal is extraordinarily large. No specific has been discovered which neutralises or expels the poison; judicious treatment may enable nature to resist till the virus has spent itself, injudicious treatment may have a contrary effect, but that is all." The conclusion, said the report, to which both reason and experience lead us is, that since all remedial measures are experiments and cost much time, and since the contagion is subtle, swift, and unsparing, it, is better to stamp out the disease than to attempt to cure it. " The experience of Prussia," where cordons are quickly drawn round infected districts, and the murrain stamped out, " is especially valuable in this respect. The plague was often appeased, says Professor Gerlach, in the provinces bordering on the Russian empire - in East Prussia, Posen, and Silesia; but has never since 1815 penetrated westward even so far as Brandenburg." With this and similar experience to guide them, the commission made their recommendations.

They found the only regulations in force to be certain Orders in Council, published as a Consolidated Order, in September, 1865, under the authority of an Act of Parliament originally passed in 1848, which gave to orders of the kind the force of law. This Consolidated Order appointed inspectors, or caused them to be appointed by the local authorities, gave these inspectors full power to enter any shed, &c., and then and there destroy any infected animal; and made strict regulations forbidding the transit of diseased animals, and closing the Metropolitan Cattle Market, " except for purposes of immediate slaughter." This order, as the commissioners said, was good, but insufficient. It left room for its prohibitions to be evaded; above all, it left too much to the discretion of the "local authorities." Local authorities are, no doubt, very useful in local matters, but, as the report said, "wider interests are concerned than those little circles enclose.... All justices are not equally firm, equally ready to do an unpopular thing, equally convinced of the magnitude of the calamity." The report dealt with the question as what it really was - a question of imperial, and not of local interest. It told the country plainly that difficulties and sacrifices must be expected; that London must import her meat dead, and not alive; that the only way to get rid of the disease quickly was to prevent the movement of cattle absolutely. To prevent the communication of drove with drove would be, as the commissioners said, the best and quickest way of letting the plague die out. But at the same time such a prohibition would have been a very serious step; it would have caused a sudden and alarming interruption in trade, and would probably have led to an evasion of the law. Hence the commissioners - though a majority of them ventured to recommend the total stoppage of all movement of cattle as the best course- advised certain alternative measures in case the difficulties of that course should be found too great. These alternative recommendations forbade the transit of lean or store stock, and imposed strict regulations on the movements of fat stock for slaughter. The report also suggested great restrictions on the importation of foreign cattle; such as that they should only be allowed to land at certain ports, that the fat stock should be immediately slaughtered, and that various forms of quarantine should be imposed upon the stock not immediately meant for the butcher. For Ireland, where the disease had not appeared, the commissioners urged the extreme importance of being prepared in case it should appear, and of being ready and able to stamp it out.

These recommendations were, of course, open to the objection that the measures they pointed to were centralising, imperial - in other words, un-English. It was in vain that it was answered that it was the disease which was un-English; that it was against the disease that the objection lay, and not against the recommendations. Lord Russell's Government knew that the very breath of an Englishman's life is the liberty to do what he likes with his own. He does not like to lose his cattle, but he likes still less to be prevented from losing them if he likes. The same spirit which moved a great popular leader to denounce the Adulteration Laws as " an interference with the freedom of competition," would have moved the farmer, the salesman, the butcher, and even the consumer, to denounce any really thoroughgoing measures of repression as tyrannical and over-governmental. So the Ministry did what commended it to the people, and what did less than nothing to check the disease. It "empowered the local authorities." It gave to mayors of boroughs and to the county quarter sessions certain powers, apparently extensive, really very limited, towards hindering the plague. It did not even empower the justices in quarter sessions to prevent the movement of sheep, or pigs, or goats from place to place within their jurisdiction. A farmer, for instance, in South Oxfordshire might send a flock of sheep to another farmer in North Oxfordshire, whether the quarter sessions liked it or not, and whether the sheep did or did not carry germs of contagion with them, as they very well might. Most of all, though the new Orders in Council empowered, they did not compel. A blundering bench of magistrates, an indolent mayor, might, if they chose, take no care to prevent oxen passing from one part of a county to another, or through a borough, whether they brought the plague with them or not. The result was, that the tradition of English liberty was preserved, and that the disease spread like wild-fire. The first report of the commissioners was dated October 31, 1865; the orders followed very soon; and yet the number of animals attacked, which had been 11,300 up to October 7, increased by January 27 to 120,740. To mark the mortality from the disease it may be observed that of these hundred and twenty thousand, only 14,162 are known to have recovered.

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