Front Page Titles (by Subject) 375.: ELECTORAL DISTRICTS DAILY NEWS, 25 JULY, 1848, P. 2 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
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375.: ELECTORAL DISTRICTS DAILY NEWS, 25 JULY, 1848, P. 2 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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This article returns to the issues of No. 373 (q.v.), with particular reference to Thomas Noon Talfourd’s Speech on National Representation (6 July), PD, Vol. 100, cols. 170-81. This unheaded second leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on Electoral Districts and against Mr. Talfourd’s speech, in the Daily News of 25th July 1848”
(MacMinn, p. 70).
the most important point in Mr. Hume’s plan of reform is the equalisation of the electoral districts. This one thing would do more towards diminishing the undue ascendancy of landed and moneyed wealth than all the other points, even of the charter,1 without it. It would reduce the nominees of the landlords in the House of Commons from about two-thirds of the whole assembly to about one-third. And by making every electoral body too numerous to be bribed, it would put an end to the obtaining seats by mere expenditure, an object for which so much virtuous zeal is so ineffectually professed by all classes of half-reformers.
This, then, being, of all the “points,” by far the most disagreeable to the present ruling powers, the opposition to it is proportionally more obstinate than to any other. But as it is not convenient to say that the real objection to the measure is its efficacy, every encouragement is held out to the invention of sentimental objections. Electoral districts are said to be mechanical, pedantic, a rule-and-square system; and all the other phrases usually employed to throw discredit on precise and business-like modes of conducting any transaction. Serjeant Talfourd, the “good poet but bad politician,”2 lent himself as an organ for this style of declamation; and clenched his first specimen with the passage, known to all readers of poetry from Coleridge’s translation of Schiller’s Wallenstein, in which the crafty Ottavio Piccolomini inculcates on his high-minded son the superiority of tortuous courses:
So, because the lightning and the cannon-ball fly straight to their mark, nothing else should. Straightforwardness and directness of aim are declared to be discreditable things, and whatever takes the straight road to its object is an agent of destruction. Let us rather say that directness and power are the same thing or always accompany each other. If the object be to destroy, the means which are most direct are the most effectual; and so they are when the object is to preserve. When a person is in the water and drowning, Mr. Talfourd would hardly quote Schiller in favour of going round about, instead of straight in to deliver him. If it is absolutely necessary to have an illustration from visible nature, the sunbeams move in straight lines as well as the lightning; indeed more so, for the lightning makes no objection to twisting and turning in order to accommodate itself to the direction of the conducting medium. A steam-ship, also, would have been a more appropriate exemplification of rectilineal movement than a cannon-ball. The poet goes on to say that the road on which blessing travels
but the very words of the quotation suggest that the illustration and the philosophy are both antiquated, and that roads, in these days, are not made on the principle which the poet patronises. Does it not occur to the admirers of crooked paths that we are living in an age of railroads; and that, now-a-days, rather than not go straight to our object, instead of winding round the hill we even tunnel through it? The spirit of the time requires that its machinery, whether for physical or for political purposes, shall be efficient. It is not reckoned a merit in machinery to imitate the pleasing irregularities of nature. Its beauty is in its accuracy: it works by straight lines and right angles, and works best when its lines are most correctly straight, its angles most exactly square.
Coleridge himself, though fond of quoting the passage which Mr. Talfourd cited from him,5 is an authority in favour of electoral districts. He recommended, we think in his Church and State, a new administrative division of the country, describing the present one as barbarous, and a great obstacle to improvement.6 Even Schiller is against Mr. Talfourd; for the fine verses put into the mouth of Piccolomini do not express Schiller’s opinions; on the contrary the whole tragedy is a demonstration, not for, but against Piccolomini’s maxims and conduct.
Electoral districts are mechanical. And why not? In whatever manner members of parliament are elected, there must be mechanical arrangement of some sort; and what these should be is not a question of poetry or the picturesque, but of means to an end. What is the right end, and by what means can it be accomplished? Is it the proper end of a House of Commons to make the landed and monied aristocracies the masters of the legislature? If so, keep the system as it is. Is it the object that no class shall predominate, but that all sections of the community shall be powerful in proportion to their numbers and their intelligence? A new division and constitution of the electoral body is then imperative; and the more nearly equal the number of electors in each constituency the more nearly is the end attained. There is a sentiment concerned in the matter, without doubt, but it is that of justice. When just ends are aimed at by just means, and means well adapted to their attainment, all other sentiment will take care of itself. Sentiment, and of the best kind, is sure to gather round all things which are large diffusers of good among the human race.
Unfortunately, reformers no more than anti-reformers have yet learned to make great principles their object, and in this lies the secret in the affairs of communities no less than in those of individuals, of ineffectual struggles and mean results. The world will rally round a truly great principle, and be as much the better for the contest as for the attainment; but the petty objects by the pursuit of which no principle is asserted, are fruitless even when attained.
[1 ]The Chartists’ central document, The People’s Charter (London: Working Men’s Association, 1838), originally included six “points”: universal suffrage, no property qualification for M.P.s, annual parliaments, equal representation, payment of representatives, and the ballot.
[2 ]See Cobden’s speech of 6 July, col. 184.
[3 ]Mill is loosely quoting Talfourd, col. 179, who is loosely quoting Coleridge, The Piccolomini; or, The First Part of Wallenstein (London: Longman and Rees, 1800), p. 22 (I, iv, 70-3), from Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), Wallenstein, ein dramatisches Gedicht (1798-99), in Sämmtliche Werke, 2nd ed., 12 vols. (Stuttgart and Tübingen: Cotta’schen Buchhandlung, 1818-19), Vol. IX, Pt. 2.
[4 ]Coleridge, The Piccolomini, pp. 22-3 (I, iv, 77-8).
[5 ]See, e.g., Coleridge, Table Talk, ed. Henry Nelson Coleridge, 2 vols. (London: Murray, 1835), Vol. I, p. 185.
[6 ]On the Constitution of Church and State, p. 56.