Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION V.: REMEDY IN DETAIL: RADICAL PARLIAMENTARY REFORM: ELEMENTARY ARRANGEMENTS IN THIS EDITION OF IT—THEIR NECESSITY. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3
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SECTION V.: REMEDY IN DETAIL: RADICAL PARLIAMENTARY REFORM: ELEMENTARY ARRANGEMENTS IN THIS EDITION OF IT—THEIR NECESSITY. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 3 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 3.
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REMEDY IN DETAIL: RADICAL PARLIAMENTARY REFORM: ELEMENTARY ARRANGEMENTS IN THIS EDITION OF IT—THEIR NECESSITY.
Immediate cause of the mischief—on the part of the men acting as representatives of the people, coupled with adequate power a sinister interest, productive of a constant sacrifice made of the interest of the people.
Causes of the above cause,—in the breasts of these same agents,—undue independence, coupled with undue dependence: independence as towards their principles; dependence as towards the C—r-General, by whose co—tive influence the above-mentioned sacrifice is produced.
Here, in the above elements—here, in a nutshell, may be seen the mischief and its causes:—against this mischief, revolution apart, behold in Parliamentary Reform the name of the only possible remedy. In these elements, when developed, may be seen—what radical reform is—what the sort of reform termed moderate is; thence, what and where the difference.
The reform sketched out in the ensuing plan being of the radical kind,—the advantages, by the consideration of which the several elementary arrangements contained in it were suggested, will there be found. But, on the present occasion, what is required is—from all the several arrangements in question, to show—this having been the result of the inquiry—that while, by radical reform, a remedy, and that an adequate one, would be applied,—by moderate reform, no remedy would be applied, or next to none. In brief, the undue independence would remain, and with it the undue dependence.
Thus far in generals: now for development:—
First point to be considered—situations, in and to both which, to be effectual, the remedy must apply itself. These are—
1. Situation of parliamentary electors.
2. Situation of parliamentary representatives.
1. First, as to the situation of parliamentary electors.
Take for the description of the ultimate end, advancement of the universal interest.
In the description of this end is included—comprehension of all distinguishable particular interests: viz. in such sort, that such of them, between which no repugnancy has place, may be provided for in conjunction, and without defalcation:—while, in regard to such of them, between which any such repugnancy has place, such defalcations, and such alone, shall be made, as, when taken all together, shall leave in the state of a maximum whatsoever residuum of comfort and security may be the result:—with exceptions to as small an extent as possible, interests all to be advanced: without any exception, all to be considered.
1. In the character of a means, in this same description is moreover included—if it be not rather the same thing in other words—virtual universality of suffrage.
2. In this same description is moreover included—if it be not the same thing again in other words—practical equality of representation or suffrage.
Applied to the name of the quality universality, the use of the adjunct virtual is—by the limitation of which it gives intimation, to distinguish it from unlimited universality of suffrage; unlimited, or absolute, being the degree of universality, which, but for the application of some limitative adjunct, would, according to the correct import of the word, be to be understood. Of absolute universality, if admitted, the effect would be—to admit to the exercise of the franchise in question persons of various descriptions, none of whom would be capable of exercising it to the advantage either of others or of themselves. Idiots, and infants in leading-strings, may serve for examples.
By virtually universal suffrage, what I mean is—that which will remain of absolutely universal suffrage, when from the number of individuals designated by the word universal, all such defalcations shall have been made, as, by specific considerations, shall have been shown to be productive, each of them of a benefit in some special shape: that benefit being at the same time preponderant over every inconvenience, if any such there be, resulting from the limitation thus applied:—a limitation, viz. to the operation of the principle, by which the comprehension of all interests, as far as practicable, is prescribed.
If, in the instance of any one individual of the whole body of the people, it be right that the faculty of contributing to the choice of a representative—to the choice of a person, by whom, in the representative assembly, his interest shall be advocated, be possessed and exercised,—how can it be otherwise than right, in the instance of any one other such person? In this question, viz. in the impossibility of finding an answer to it, unless it be in the case, and to the extent, of the several defalcations above alluded to,—will, it is believed, be found contained the substance of the argument in support of universality of suffrage.
If, in the instance of any one individual, it be right that he should possess a share, of a certain degree of magnitude, in the choice of a person, to form one in the aggregate body of the representatives of the people,—how can it be right that, in the instance of any other individual, the share should be either less or greater? In this question is contained the substance of the argument in support of practical equality of representation.
That which universality of suffrage has for its limit is—need of defalcation for divers special causes or reasons: to give intimation of this limit is the use of the adjunct virtual. That which equality of representation has for its limit is—in the first place, the inconvenience, which in the shape of delay, vexation, and expense, could not fail to be the result of any endeavour, employed at any assignable point of time, to give existence to absolute equality; in the next place, the impossibility, resulting from the diversities of which, in respect of increase and decrease, the quantity of the population is everywhere susceptible; viz. the impossibility of keeping on foot—for any length of time, any such absolute equality,—supposing it to have, in the first instance, been established.
3. In the same description is, moreover, included freedom of suffrage: freedom, to which, in the present instance, may be considered as equivalent terms—genuineness and non-spuriousness.
To say that a suffrage ought to be free, what is it but to say—that the will expressed by it ought to be the very will of the person by whom it is so expressed?—the will of that person and of that person only; his self-formed will,—the product of his own judgment, self-formed or derivative as the case may be,—not produced by the knowledge or belief of the existence of any will or wish, considered as entertained by any other person, at whose hands the voter entertains an eventual expectation of receiving good or evil, in any shape: good or evil, according as, by him the said voter, the wishes of such other person, in relation to the matter in question, shall or shall not have been conformed to?
In so far as, in the instance of any voter, the vote which is given is, according to this explanation, and in this sense, not free, it is manifestly not genuine: it is spurious:—under the guise and disguise of the expression of the will of the voter, it is the will—not of the voter, but of some other person. In so far as it is given as and for the will of the voter, the giving it, is it any thing better than an act of imposture?
3 or 4. Secresy of suffrage. Short reason, its necessity to secure freedom; i. e. to secure genuineness—to prevent spuriousness.
Extensive and important as is the result of the whole body of electoral suffrages, given in the aggregate number of the electoral districts; yet, under any scheme of representation, in which any approach were made to virtual universality and practical equality of suffrage,—the value, even in his own eyes, of the interest* which any one man can have, in the choice of any one candidate in contradistinction to any other, will, generally speaking—and, unless in so far as it may happen to it to be swelled by affections and passions, produced by accidental circumstances—he extremely minute: so minute, that, barring such accidental causes of augmentation, scarcely can there be that private and separate interest so small as not to be capable of prevailing against it: of prevailing against it, in such sort, as to give to the vote a direction, opposite to that which would be the result of the regard entertained by the voter for such his share in the universal interest:—always supposed that, in the case of such self-regarding interest, the advantage corresponding to it is regarded as certain of being received; which, in the case of a bribe for example, it always is.
In the case of the vast majority of the number of voters that would be produced by the principle of universal suffrage,—half-a-guines, for example, or any interest equivalent to the interest corresponding to that sum, may, under a certainty of its being received, be stated as abundantly sufficient for the purpose. But, setting aside the case of an interest created by expectation of eventual good or evil—expected, as in that case, at the hands of some other person or persons, according to the direction known to have been given to the vote—it is not in the nature of the case, that from a vote given by a single one out of any such large number of electors as is in question—say for example three or four thousand—any assurance or operative expectation whatsoever, of any effective advancement of self-regarding interest to any such amount—no, not so much as to any such amount as the value of a single shilling—should be entertained by any man. By himself, nothing could the candidate in question, supposing him chosen, do for the advancement of any such individual self-regarding interest on the part of the voting elector; much less could the elector himself, by any disposition given by him to a vote, by which no effect whatsoever could be produced without the concurrence of a thousand or two of other votes.
Thus it appears, that by no indigenous—by no inbred—self-regarding interest, could any quantity of seductive or corruptive force, adequate to the purpose of effectual corruption, be created.
Not so in the case of such self-regarding interest, as in so many various circumstances is capable of being created by seductive or corruptive force, operating from without. In the present state of things, four thousand guineas for example, more or less, is said to be the average price of a venal seat. On this supposition, four thousand, minus one, being supposed to be the number of voting electors, two thousand guineas would suffice to carry the election; and, on any other election, supposing four thousand guineas the price paid,—here would be a couple of guineas, which any man, and every man, would have it in his power to receive by the selling of his vote. Here, then, is a quantity of corruptive force amply sufficient. Half-a-guinea per vote, or some such matter, has been spoken of, as the price habitually paid—and by whom paid? By a member eminent for probity as well in public as in private life; and this, in a borough, in which his probity—lying more within knowledge than elsewhere—cannot but be held in at least as high estimation as it can be anywhere else. But if, thus operating ab extra, an interest corresponding to the sure receipt of half-a-guinea suffices to determine the conduct of each one of a two or three thousand of electors, much more will four times that sum.*
True it is, that, in any such state of things as that which is here proposed,—at no such sum as four thousand guineas, or anything approaching to it, could the value of a seat remain. But, no such seat could remain, without possessing some value: and, so long as the seat possessed a venal value, so long would each one of the number of the votes on which the possession of it depended.
Thus minute is the portion of corruptive force which ought to be regarded as generally adequate to the production of the corruptive effect,—on the supposition that, as in the present state of things, the direction taken by the vote is in each instance known or knowable. On the other hand, let but this direction be to a certainty unknown to every individual but the voter himself,—the freedom—the complete freedom—of his suffrage, is the necessary result. In vain—at the instance, or for the satisfaction of any other person, at whose hands eventual good or evil is expected—in vain would he disclose, though it be ever so truly, the direction taken by his vote. Apprized, as every voter would be, that in such a case, not veracity but falsehood would be the course prescribed by a sense of moral obligation—under the uncertainty produced by the diffusion of a maxim to this effect, and by the universal declaration by which the observance of it might be enforced—by no elector could any adequate inducement be found, for putting in any such case any real restraint upon the freedom of his suffrage: by no other person, in the character of tempter, would be seen any adequate prospect of advantage—advantage, even from simple solicitation, still less from pecuniary expense, employed in the endeavour to divest the suffrage of the freedom so essential to the utility of it.
True it is, that it is only on the supposition, that on the part of the majority of the voters there exists, in the breast of each, either from self-formed or from derivative judgment, a practically adequate conception of the course dictated by his share in the universal interest,—true it is, that only in so far as this supposition is in conformity to fact, will the freedom in question, supposing it secured, be subservient to the great ends proposed: but, of the propriety of a supposition to this effect, proof sufficient for practice has already, it is presumed, been afforded. Nor as yet is the subject closed.
Freedom of suffrage being taken for the end,—it will soon (it is hoped) be generally seen and recognised, how essential, in every instance, to the accomplishment of this end, secresy of suffrage is, in the character of a means.
In what different ways freedom of suffrage is capable of being taken away,—to what extent, and by the influence of what descriptions of persons it actually and constantly is taken away,—these are among the topics, under which the state of the case will presently be brought to view.
So much as to the situation of elector: now as to the situation of representative.
For the purpose of this part of the argument, the situation of elector must be supposed to have been properly marked out and established: and, for the marking out and establishment of it, the fulfilment of the above condition—the investing of the suffrage with the above-mentioned desirable qualities—viz. virtual universality, practical equality, freedom, and secresy, must be regarded as effected.
1. Due dependence—i. e. dependence as towards constituents; 2. Due independence—i. e. independence as towards every other person:—these, together with universal constancy of attendance, present themselves as occupying in relation to this situation—as occupying, and on the same line—the first rank, in the scale of ends and means.
1. Dependence as towards constituents.—Understand dependence to this effect, viz. that, in the event of a man’s becoming, in the eyes of the acting majority of his constituents, to a certain degree deficient in respect of any of the elements of appropriate aptitude (viz. appropriate probity, appropriate intellectual aptitude, or appropriate active talent,)—it may, before he has had time, by means of such deficiency, to produce, in any considerable quantity, any irremediable mischief,—be in the power of his constituents, by means of a fresh election, to remove him from his seat.
2. Independence.—Understand as towards all other persons at large, but more particularly as towards C—r-General and Co., by whose influence alone, the nature of the case considered, dependence, as towards himself, can ever,—in the instance of any proportion approaching to a majority of the whole population of the House,—have place.
1. As to due dependence—i. e. dependence in relation to electors.
According to another supposition, the truth of which has, it is presumed, been proved,—on the part of the electors—at any rate, on the part of the great majority of them—there does exist the disposition to contribute towards the advancement of the universal interest, whatsoever can be contributed by their votes: by those votes, by the aggregate of which—that is, by the majority of that aggregate—will be determined the individuality of the several persons on whom, in the character of their representatives, will be incumbent the duty of acting their parts respectively, towards the accomplishment of that same ultimate and comprehensive end.
Unfortunately, by the essential and unchangeable nature of the two situations,—viz. that of C—r-General and Co. with the immense mass of the matter of good—(not to speak of a less, but still very considerable, mass of the matter of evil)—both matters not only capable of being made to operate, but, by reason of these same relative situations, at all times—without need of any active and purposely directed operation on the part of anybody to that end—actually and with prodigious effect operating in the character of matter of corruption,—the representatives of the people are, one and all, exposed to the action, and that an altogether intense one, of this same baneful matter. In this state of things, that which in the very nature of the case is altogether impracticable is—the keeping them in any such state, as that in which no such sinister interest would be capable of being, in any sensible degree, productive of any sinister effect. Towards preserving a man, then, in such a situation, from being thus corrupted, all that the nature of the case admits of is—so to order matters, that in the event of his becoming obsequious to the influence of the matter of corruption, and thereupon manifesting a deficiency in the element of appropriate probity, his power of doing mischief may receive a termination as speedy as the other exigencies bearing upon the case may admit.
2. As to due independence: independence as towards C—r-General and Co.
In regard to this endowment, what is manifest is—that by any direct means—by any means other than that which consists in the rendering the representative dependent by reason of his seat—dependent, therefore, in a degree which cannot be greater than that, whatsoever it be, which corresponds to whatsoever may, in his eyes, be the value of that seat,—nothing towards securing to him the possession of this endowment can be done. This being the case, this endowment resolves itself into the before-mentioned one—viz. due dependence; nor, in addition to the antiseptic power possessed by the due dependence, does it appear that by any circumstance referable to the head of independence—due independence—any ulterior security can be afforded.
That which, Monarch and Lords remaining, no reform in the Commons could prevent the Monarch from doing, is—the giving to any member of the Commons House, or to any person in any way connected with him, a useful and needful place, a needless place, a useless place, an overpaid place, a ribbon or other badge of factitious dignity, a baronetcy, a peerage: and so in the case of any number of the members:—in this state stands the mischief. But that which a reform in the Commons, so it be a radical one, can do, is—so to order matters, as that, on the occasion of the next general election that has place, the electors, if in their eyes the appointment wears the character of a bribe, shall have it in their power to rid themselves of the supposed betrayer of his trust:—in this state stands the remedy. In the way of punishment, not to be inflicted but on legal evidence, true it is, that against the bestowing of the matter of corruption, not on the member himself, but only on a person connected with him, nothing does the nature of the case admit of in the way of remedy: but, so far as concerns the withdrawing their confidence for this purpose, no legal evidence is necessary.
Such being the primary or principal securities, follow now two secondary or instrumental ones.
3. Impermanence of the situation; viz. to the degree in which it is secured by annuality of re-election:—by the annual recurrence of the elective process.
In two distinguishable ways does this species of instrumental security contribute to the two principal ones:—1. In proportion to the short-livedness of the power, diminishes, both to purchasers, and thence to sellers, the venal value of it;—the profit capable of being reaped by C—r-General and Co. by corrupting the representative in question, and engaging him to betray his trust: 2. The profit to C—r, and thence, in the shape of money or money’s worth, the price which he will be willing to pay, and thence the corruptible representative be able to receive. In the same proportion, moreover, increases the power of the antiseptic—the corruption-opposing—remedy, placed in the hands of his constituents: the sooner the time for re-election comes, the earlier will that remedy be applicable.*
To reduce to its minimum the quantity of time, during which it shall be in the power of the representative to continue in the supposed course of mischievous conduct, what would be requisite is—that immediately, on the supposed commission of any such breach of trust, it should be in the power of his principals, that is to say, of the majority of his constituents, to divest him at any time of such his trust.
But, to produce any such effect might require the keeping of the body of the electors in such a state of almost continual attention and activity, as would be incompatible with that degree of attention to their means of procuring and insuring to themselves, in their respective productive occupations, those means of subsistence, without which the requisite quantity would, to a more or less considerable extent, fail—and thereby mischief be produced, in a degree far more extensive than could reasonably be expected to be produced, by the difference between a possession capable of being revoked at any time, and upon the shortest notice,—and a possession, the termination of which could not be effected oftener than at the recurrence of some determinate and short period, such as that of a single year: in which last case, the maximum of the average duration of the supposed disposition to pursue a mischievous course would, vacations considered, be reduced to considerably less than the half of the year.
On this occasion, two inconveniences present themselves as requiring to be guarded against, viz. general want of preparedness, and particular and incidental fraudulent surprise. When,—for a judgment to be passed by the several bodies of electors, on the conduct of their respective representatives, a determinate and universally fore-known day is appointed,—the time capable of being occupied in the consideration of that conduct will, in every instance, be the same:—in every instance allowing of more time and opportunity for appropriate and universal preparation, than could have place upon any other plan. Thus much as to general preparation: now as to particular surprise. In this one word, surprise, may be seen a species of fraud, to which all public bodies stand exposed. By a particular knot of confederates, whose object is to carry some measure, which, in case of a full attendance, would not in their apprehension be approved,—a day is appointed—the earlier, in general, the more favourable to the fraud;—two connected objects being of course aimed at:—the one respecting attendance—to get in those from whom they expect support—the other, to keep out those from whom they expect opposition—in both cases in as great numbers as possible: the other, respecting preparation—in such sort that supporters may be as well prepared,—adversaries, such as cannot be prevented from attending, as ill-prepared—as possible; these objects are accordingly, in each case, pursued:—pursued by such particular means as the particular nature of the case happens to afford, and admits of.
By the fixation of a determinate and universally fore-known day, both these inconveniences stand excluded: but for such fixation, the door to both lies open.
4. Exclusion of placemen from the faculty of voting in the House.
The mischief, against which impermanence of the situation is calculated to operate as a security, is contingent receipt of the matter of corruption: he who to his seat in the House adds the possession of any other office, with benefit in a pecuniary or any other shape annexed to it,—every such man is actually harbouring in his bosom a correspondent portion of that pestilential matter, and is actually under the dominion of its baneful influence.
In the plan may be seen the reasons, by which the utility of the attendance of placemen in the House, with faculty of speech, and even of motion, is brought to view: and in the same place is shown, the inapplicability of those reasons to the faculty of voting,—and the sufficiency of this unnatural and baneful union to brand, with the just imputation of imbecility, whatsoever confidence can be placed in any assembly, in which a so certainly efficient cause of habitual improbity, breach of trust, and misrule, is harboured, and suffered to operate.
True it is, that to the case of the holders of places and pensions at pleasure,—to them and them alone does the demand for the exclusion in question present itself in its utmost force. But, to the case of the holders of places during good behaviour, as the phrase is—a tenure to the purpose in question not substantially different from tenure for life—the demand, though not in equal, presents itself as having place in sufficient force.
A place or pension of this description may be, and, it should seem, ought to be, considered as a sort of retaining fee. Gratitude—private gratitude—as towards the patron—this motive, though, in comparison of self-regarding interest, a social and laudable motive, yet in comparison, especially when acting in opposition to patriotism—a motive equally social, and operating upon the more enlarged and important scale,—it operates in the character of an instrument of corruption;—gratitude, viz. even when it is genuine, and stands alone. But, to whom is it unknown, that, in whatever breast fear or ambitious hope, looking to the future, has place,—gratitude, looking, or pretending to look, solely to the past—gratitude, wherever the past presents a pretence, is a cloak—a cloak put on by the self-regarding motive—a cloak presented by decency and prudence.
5. Universal constancy of attendance.
Be the place what it will, in which, if at all, the function, be it what it may, must be performed,—that function cannot be performed by a man who is not there. A maxim to this effect seems not to be very open to dispute.
Beneficial effects of such universal constancy—mischiefs resulting from the want of it—these, together with the means of effectually securing such attendance, may be seen in the plan itself.
The additional character, in which, on the present occasion, it seems necessary to bring it more particularly to view, is—that of an additional security against undue dependence in the only case in which it can be productive of practical mischief, viz. the case in which a majority, and that a permanent one, have been brought under the dominion of the corruptive influence. By absentation, every man who, in the case of a pernicious measure, is in his real judgment against it; but who, by the sinister influence of C—r-General and Co., is prevented from acting in consequence, at the same time that, were it not for such influence, he would attend and vote in favour of it;—by mere absentation, does every such man do exactly one half of the utmost quantity of the mischief that he could do by attending and voting in favour of the pernicious measure: and so, vice versa, in the case of a beneficent measure. On the other hand,—by supposition, the man being one who, on the occasion of the vote he gives, is, in the main, induced to be determined by consideration of public good,—then so it is, that, if the mischievousness of it be to a certain degree palpable, if he were in attendance, shame would suffice to prevent him from giving his vote on the sinister side. But, to the case of mere absentation, the cause of it not being known, shame cannot attach itself: here then, in so far as attendance and non-attendance are left optional, the half of every man’s effective influence in the assembly is left in the condition of a saleable commodity, capable of being sold to C—r-General and Co. without earthly restraint of any kind—not only without fear of punishment, under the name of punishment—but without fear of reproach or shame.
And thus it appears, that, after everything which, for the securing of probity—appropriate probity—in the breasts of the individual members, each in his separate capacity, against the assaults of corruptive influence, can be done, has been done,—universal constancy of attendance remains, in the character of a supplement, necessary to the securing, on the part of the aggregate body, the same indispensable element of official aptitude.
Now then, if, of an assembly constituted by a system of deputation, in which suffrage was at once virtually universal, practically equal, and completely free,—and that assembly composed of persons, each of whom was removable, at the earliest, in a week or two,—at the latest, in less than a year,—so it were that, by the means of corruptive influence always remaining in the hands of C—r-General and Co., even under a system of constantly universal attendance, a permanent majority could be bought,—then, on this supposition, the due and requisite dependence, viz. dependence on constituents, could not have place. But, that any such open corruption should readily have place, seems morally impossible. Even under the present system, spite of all its corruption, here and there a case has been seen, in which the corrupt will of C—r-General and Co. has experienced effectual resistance. Yes; even under the present system: how then could it ever be otherwise under a pure one?
That, even in so much as a single instance, or so much as any one occasion, any such general corruption should, in such a state of things, have place, seems altogether out of the sphere of human probability. But, to produce any permanent and unremedied bad effect, it would require that such corrupt majority should be a permanent one:—for, suppose it ever to cease, the majority of a single day would suffice to unravel the web of corruption, and devote the corruptionists, if not to punishment under the forms of law, at any rate to universal indignation and abhorrence, with a certainty of never more being reappointed to the trust which, by the supposition, they had thus abused.
Thus far as to the points of most prominent importance. Remain for consideration the arrangements necessary to the simplification of the mode of election, and thence to the exclusion of mischief in so many various shapes, such as delay, vexation, expense, drunkenness and tumult at elections,—and litigation in consequence of, and even antecedently, and with a view to election:—mischiefs that have place, and, to a certain degree, are even fostered, under the existing mode. But, in regard to these, reference to the plan itself may here suffice.
[* ]Understand here, the interest consisting in his individual share in the universal interest.
[* ]Setting aside the fear of personal shame, and of the evil example that would be set to the public—many an election do I remember, in which not only a couple of guineas, but the half or the quarter of that sum, or even less, would, under any degree of affluence, have sufficed to determine the direction which I myself would have given to my vote. Imagine then whether, in my eyes, the sort and degree of moral guilt attached to the case of election bribe-taking on the part of the lower orders in general, can be very intense.
[* ]Almon’s Debates, anno 1744, January 29.—On a motion for annual parliaments, in preference to triennial, made in 1744, by Thomas Carew, these arguments were urged with great force by him, and in reply to the ministerial advocate, Sir William Yonge, by Sir John Phillipps, whose son was created, in the present reign, Lord Milford. The negative was carried by no more than 145 to 113: majority no more than 32. The only other speaker reported is Humphrey Sydenham, much inferior, who spoke in support of the motion. Of Yonge’s reasoning, the weakness may to a curious degree be seen prominent.