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A New Hansard
by [?]

There is an annual publication called the ‘Wreck Register,’ which probably few of us have ever seen, if even heard of. Its object is to record all the wrecks which have occurred during the preceding year, accompanying the narrative by such remarks or observations as may contribute to explain each catastrophe, or offer likelihood of prevention in future. It is, though thoroughly divested of any sensational character, one of the dreariest volumes one can take up. Disaster follows disaster so fast, that at length the reader begins to imagine that shipwreck is the all but invariable event of a voyage, and that they who cross the ocean in safety are the lucky mortals of humanity.

Fortunately, however, long as the catalogue of misfortune is, this is not the case, and we have the satisfaction of learning that the percentage of loss is decreasing with every year. The higher knowledge and attainments of merchant captains, and the increase of refuge harbours, are the chief sources of this security. The old ignorance, in which a degree or two of latitude more or less was a light error in a ship’s reckoning, is now unheard of, and they who command merchant-ships in our day are a very well informed and superior order of men. With reference to the conduct and capacity of these captains, this ‘Wreck Register,’ is a very instructive publication. If, for instance, you find that Captain Brace, who was wrecked on the Azores in ’52, was again waterlogged at sea in ’61, and ran into an iceberg off Newfoundland in ’62, you begin, mayhap unfairly, to couple him too closely with disaster, and you turn to the inquest over his calamities to see what estimate was formed of his conduct. You learn, possibly, that in one case he was admonished to more caution; in another, honourably acquitted; and in the last instance smartly reprimanded, and his certificate suspended for six months or a year. Now, though you have never heard of Captain Brace in your life, nor are probably likely to encounter him on sea or land, you cannot avoid a certain sense of relief at the thought that so unlucky a commander, to say the least of it, is not likely for a while to imperil more lives, and that the warning impressed by his fate will also be a salutary lesson to many others.

It was in reflecting over this system of inquiry and sentence, that it occurred to me what to admirable thing it would be to introduce the ‘Wreck Register’ into politics, and to have a yearly record of all parliamentary shipwrecks; all the bills that foundered, the motions that were stranded, the amendments lost in a fog!–to be able to look back and reflect over the causes of these disasters, investigating patiently how and why and where they happened, and asking ourselves, Have we any better security for the future? are we better acquainted with the currents, the soundings, or the headlands? and, above all, what amount of blame, if any, is attributable to the commander?

If we find, for instance, that the barque Young Reform, no matter how carefully fitted out for sea–new sheathed and coppered, with bran-new canvass, and a very likely crew on board–never leaves the port that she does not come back crippled; and that old and experienced captains, however confidently they may take the command at first, frankly own that they’ll never put foot in her again, you very naturally begin to suspect that there’s something wrong in her build. She is either too unwieldy, like the Great Eastern, or she is too long to turn well, or she requires such incessant repair; or, most fatal of all, she is entered for a trade where nobody wants her; and therefore you resolve that, come what will, you’ll avoid her.

What an inestimable benefit to the student of politics would a few such brief notices be, instead of sending him, as we send him now, to the dreary pages of Hansard! Imagine what a neat system of mnemonics would grow out of the plan, when, instead of poring over interminable columns of tiresome repetition, you had the whole narrative in few words–thus: “Barque Reform, John Russell, commander, lost A.D. 1854 The Commissioners seeing that this vessel was built for the most part of old materials, totally unseaworthy, are of opinion that she ought not to have sailed at all; and severely censure the commander, J. R, for foolhardiness and obstinacy, he having, as it has been proved, acted in entire opposition to ‘his owners.’ On the pressing recommendation, however, of the owners, and at the representation that E. has been long in the service, and is, although too self-confident, a very respectable man, his certificate has been restored to him.”