Front Page Titles (by Subject) SIR C. DILKE ON THE CIVIL LIST. ( From The Economist, 10 th January, 1874.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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SIR C. DILKE ON THE CIVIL LIST. ( From “ The Economist, ” 10 th January, 1874.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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SIR C. DILKE ON THE CIVIL LIST.
A politician who, addressing an average English audience, tries to prove a contradiction in terms is pretty sure not to be popular with the educated, and will end by being found out even by the mass of voters, and that is the present position of Sir Charles Dilke. There is a good deal of courage—true courage—as well as conceit in his present attitude, and he is by no means wanting in capacity to maintain an argument, but he is advocating a preposterously illogical proposition. He is, in his last explanation to his constituents, not arguing the true Republican doctrine that the State is the better for a real and not a nominal Head, but is proposing that if the nominal Head must exist he should be deprived of all reverence and cloudy dignity in the eyes of his subjects of all grades. That is, he is protesting not against Kingship, which is perfectly intelligible—though, as we have not his confidence in human nature, we think it unwise—but against that peculiar form of Kingship which is essential to the very life of the existing British Constitution. If it is possible to describe that very complicated but very effective machine in any words, they will be words of this kind. Actual power must rest in a committee of great officers elected by the representatives of the people, and responsible under penalties which, though mild in form, are in reality severe, for the good government of the country, whilst formal power must rest with a great personage who appears to the people to reign, who is an immovable and traditionary head of the Executive, and who, while without initiative or veto, has a permanent right of supervision and remonstrance. Such an office, as we understand it, must as to effectiveness be somewhat elastic, for an unexperienced and unpopular King might be powerless, while an experienced or popular King might have great and lasting influence; but, in any case, it cannot exist without certain external signs of respect, or a derivation strictly within and yet above the law. An English sovereign, to exist at all, must not be liable to be cross-examined in a Tichborne case, must not be allowed by etiquette to hold controversy with a subject, must not be directly or rudely criticised in public, and must not above all have his or her privacy invaded by Parliament at discretion. He must be a figure, and not a mere person liable to criticism even for vices, unless indeed he forces those vices as George IV. did upon public notice. It is these two great rules, the impersonality and the dignity essential to an English sovereign, which Sir Charles Dilke appears to us determined, for no avowed reason, deliberately to attack. He has proposed twice before, and now proposes again, that the Civil List shall be overhauled, not at the beginning or end of each reign, which is perfectly fair and legitimate, but during each reign, so that the personal tastes, obligations, and ways of the sovereign shall be examined in the face of the world every Session in a way no Premier would endure for half-an-hour. What he says, reduced to ordinary English, is that the Queen is thrifty, saves much money, and ought to explain every year, like a cashier of a branch bank, why she accumulates so much. Would he venture to ask Parliament to make the same inquiry about any Cabinet Minister’s allowances, and the way he spent them? Suppose he could allege that one Cabinet Minister wasted money on old china, or that another was a careful economist of his allowances, would he found on those charges a request for an annual commission of inquiry? Yet he does not hesitate to suggest what amounts to that as regards the only great officer of State who cannot bid Parliament mind its own business by a threat of resignation. The Civil List, after payment of certain very heavy specified charges, is the Queen’s income for life, as much as is the annual surplus of the Duchy of Lancaster, and any inquiry whatever into the expenditure of that surplus is unfair, as well as injurious, to the dignity with which, if the Kingship is maintained at all, it must be surrounded. Devoid as our Kings are of real power—the power, for instance, of prosecuting Sir Charles Dilke, as the King of Prussia could—a constant inquiry of that kind would, in five years, be fatal to the throne, by turning the eyes of the whole electorate on an expenditure which they literally could not understand. Every man judges expenditure by a certain standard of his own, and beyond that everything seems waste or pretension; and we venture to assert that if the Queen’s private accounts were overhauled in the way the member for Chelsea desires, it is not of economy but lavish waste and extravagance of which the Sovereign would be accused. The electors would no more understand Her Majesty’s schedule of travelling expenses than they would understand why a Duke of Devonshire or Northumberland keeps up a house which costs him more than any other single expense, and would weary him to death to live in. But Sir Charles Dilke will assert that that is private waste and this is public waste, and of course this is the true gravamen of his charge. One answer to it is a flat denial, the Civil List being subject to inquiry only on a vacancy of the Throne, or on a failure to pay the State charges imposed on it; but our own seems to us still better, namely, that if a throne is to be kept at all under the British system, it must be protected by a certain dignity, stateliness, and grandeur of apparent position to which either large expenditure or extreme seclusion is indispensable. Anybody who violates that dignity is making the constitutional throne—the very key of our system of veiled Republicanism—impossible, without suggesting any better system to fill its place. He may think an unveiled Republic much better, and that is a perfectly defensible standpoint, but he will not reach it by trying to show that the Sovereign ought to have only £60,000 a year. We could have a President, if we wanted one, for £5,000; but if we had, Sir Charles would find it expedient not to demand the particulars of his banker’s book.
We do not care one straw about Sir Charles’s precedents in this matter—which he has studied very imperfectly, having missed in the strangest way his own best point, namely, the dates of Lord Brougham’s final attack on the Civil List and final withdrawal therefrom—and do not care whether the Georges bribed members or not out of the Civil List. The Queen does not, that is quite certain; and, short of that, our contention is that if the Sovereign exist at all under our Constitution he must be free of petty surveillance, must be allowed to spend or accumulate his appanages as any other great officer is allowed to spend or accumulate his salary, and must be treated as having a life interest in his own allowances. If they are too much—a proposition quite absurd unless the Monarch is to be poorer than his nobles—or if the arrangements controlling them are too indefinite, let them be revised in the settlement always made for a new reign, or let the people be asked if they prefer a Republican Government. All we object to is a perpetual attempt to destroy the character of the English kingship, without proposing its abolition, by placing the Sovereign under a microscope, beneath which no majesty, even in the English sense, can possibly endure. It must endure if the constitution is to be maintained, and if it is not maintained till the people are educated, say fifty years hence, the British Empire will suffer a shock such as it may not be able to survive. A veiled Republic is the most vivifying of all possible governments for a people accustomed to freedom, but still uneducated, and to give it up because we want to know what the Queen’s yacht costs per annum, or why she pensions relatives—that is, because we are impatient, not with the throne, but with its drapery—would be the most unbusiness-like of follies. Sir Charles Dilke pleads that he is no revolutionist, and pleads, we doubt not, with perfect truth—for in his last and very able explanation to his constituents, he shows himself thoroughly conservative of everything provided only it is stripped of dignity. He would overturn nothing except that respect for the symbol of power which alone keeps an uneducated people united, obedient, and patriotic.